Joel Harrison & Lorenz Feliciati

Holy Abyss
Cuneiform Records RUNE 334

By Ken Waxman

There’s a thin line between low key and listless and sadly many of the tracks on this otherwise lyrical CD cross it many times. For some reason the five seasoned musicians decided to pitch most of this program of all-originals at tempos that range from gloomy to lugubrious, only occasionally lively enough to sound cheerful.

Certainly the talent is here. New York-based session co-leader guitarist Joel Harrison, whose previous CDs have featured the likes of saxophonists Dave Liebman, manages to work in trebly tone distortions and spidery reverb in some of his solos, but otherwise stays more linear than a super highway. Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati, the session’s co-leader was influenced by King Crimson and worked with saxophonist Bob Mitzer, but his writing on three tracks seems more noteworthy than his stolid playing. British keyboardist Roy Powell, who now lives in Norway, has played with stylists such as guitarist Terje Rypdal, and manages to inhabit many piano styles from supper-club comping to bop chording. Drummer Dan Weiss, sideman of choice for pianist Kenny Werner among others, plays spaciously and rhythmically, but never seems to dig into the material. Probably the biggest surprise is Seattle-based trumpeter Cuong Vu, whose harmonizing with Harrison provide many of the CDs defining moments. Someone whose own early CDs could be labeled punk-jazz, much of Vu’s playing here though is closer to his discreet contributions as a member of guitarist Pat Metheny’s group.

That said the trumpeter’s best soloing occurs on the Harrison composed “North Wind (Mistral)”, where his flutter-tonguing and vibrating triplets join Feliciati’s slap bass and the composer’s rock-tinged licks to toughen the initially moderato theme. “Small Table Rules”, also composed by the bassist, is a spirited stand out, although its soul-jazz vibe sounds a bit strained. With the chromatic line pushed along by Weiss’ rolls and pops, the piece gains in intensity as it careens forward, goosed by sustained triplets from Vu, until Harrison’s steady blues progression calms things down to eventual diminuendo.

With artful composing and playing evident at points, Holy Abyss isn’t in a complete abyss. But next time out more variety in the writing and liveliness in its execution could move the band closer to producing something (w)holy satisfying.

Tracks: Requiem for an Unknown Soldier; Saturday Night in Pendleton; Small Table Rules; Faith; Solos; North Wind (Mistral); Old and New; That Evening

Personnel: Cuong Vu: trumpet; Joel Harrison: guitar; Roy Powell: piano, Hammond B-3; Lorenzo Feliciati: bass; Dan Weiss: drums

—For New York City Jazz Record September 2012