"You Must Go through a Winter" opens Joel Harrison's Urban Myths with a musical sunrise… only that sunrise doesn't reveal one of those pastoral‚ snow-dusted‚ George Winston landscapes. Instead‚ we're talking New York City in the 1970s‚ with endless garbage strikes and wind gusts strong enough to peel paint. That's the atmosphere where jazz fusion grew up‚ going on to terrorize traditionalists everywhere. Urban Myths is a chip off the old neighborhood.
"Winter" isn't just a warning shot to the listener; in fine Mean Streets style‚ it's a warning beat-down‚ as merciless as the runaway groove laid down by Harrison and the rhythm section. Christian Howes' unvarnished violin appears out of nowhere and leaps for the sky‚ quickly followed by David Binney's towering alto sax. Binney may be expressive at the start‚ but by the end he's screaming over drummer Jordan person's foundation-shaking counter-solo.
Harrison stays in the background on "Winter"‚ but he's right out front on the loping "125 and Lenox‚" playing ballsy rock guitar over Daniel Kelly's pulsing Fender Rhodes. That's not the only time Harrison turns it up to 11‚ either: His mid-section blues on "Last Waltz for Queva" morphs a swaying ballad into a musical gore-fest‚ and his power chords on the kamikaze closer "High Expectation Low Return" juliennes the air in front of him. Harrison's mind-boggling deconstruction of Monk's "Straight No Chaser" would have been unrecognizable to its composer -- though I'm pretty sure he'd dig it!
While Binney and Howes' instruments respectively evoke Fusion pioneers Wayne Shorter and Jean-Luc Ponty‚ the former players' sounds are decades different: Eschewing Ponty's bottomless trick bag of special effects‚ Howes' solos on the punk-funk title track and the marvelously-titled "Between the Traveler and the Setting Sun" seems more organic‚ less contrived; the spiritual side of Binney's sax leans closer to John Coltrane's late-career work‚ as does Binney's unrelenting attack on "Mood Rodeo" and "High Expectation." And as much as Kelly's Fender has roots in Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters‚ his piano on "Traveler" brings a weight and direction that is all his own.
Fusion's detractors insist the sub-genre is a staggering dinosaur that's overdue at the tar pits. If that's the case‚ Urban Myths is a pissed-off T. Rex‚ ready to tear this century a fresh one. (Forget Mean Streets -- think Cloverfield!)
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