Spirit House is a Joel Harrison original! Original compositions, ideas, instrumentations, and grooves. While jazz sometimes repeats itself (in style, instrumentation, or choice of songs etc.), Harrison creates completely new music worth listening to, "repeatedly."
I say this because he wrote the music "specifically for this unique group of individuals," using electric guitar with bassoon (Paul Hanson), and the echoed voicings of trumpeter Cuong Vu. Add in veteran drummer Brian Blade and bassist Kermit Driscoll, and you have a spirit-band of professional brothers.
For example, the first song "An Elephant in Igor's Yard" makes use of the bassoon doubling the bass line to get a lumbering but well defined elephant sound, and Cuong Vu answers by improvising as the trunk. But that description doesn't do the song justice, because throughout there is a feeling of incense or spirits floating over the band.
Harrison says "I kept the composing fairly simple, wanting to lean on the intuitive skills of the players, and went for a feeling of openness, spirit and soul in the music."
When I first heard Spirit House my impression was one you might get sitting in a small listening room hearing the musicians delicately and almost within arms reach, as in a small circle.
Harrison was using an East Asian miniature structure, a Spirit House, as a metaphor for the album.
Some tunes groove more, such as "Left Hook," which has Driscoll on electric bass playing back and forth off of Blades, while Vu solos, and Harrison adds blankets of chordal sounds, although he is apt to add rock distortions and effects. But the tune transitions into a softer section, allowing Hanson to express himself sax-like, and it all resolves into a tight, written outro.
Johnny Broken Wing features a lightly charged but sensitive guitar intro. Harrison is able to arrive at his style in this setup, and the tune picks up when the bass and drums bring in the beautiful organic sounding head played duet style, trumpet and bassoon. The musicians are really listening well to each other on tunes like this.
"You Must Go Through a Winter" is a light structure of a tune leaving room for trio play between guitar upright bass and drums, before Vu enters on improv.
The band toured together on the West Coast in 2013 and was able to play through these songs for several days before recording, allowing them to take a unique approach throughout the album's nine songs.
"Sacred Love" perhaps best captures the mood of the whole project, which has gorgeous intro lines with Vu Hanson and Harrison, breaking into a Blade and Driscoll groove. While Blade has remained soft in approach for much of the album, he's able to drive a stake in the ground on this one, and the band goes for a sort of "group hug" (LOL) improvising all together.
An Elephant in Igor's Yard
Johnny Broken Wing
Some Thoughts on Kenny Kirkland
You Must Go Through a Winter
Look at Where You Are
Joel Harrison: guitar/voice
Cuong Vu: trumpet
Paul Hanson: basson
Kermit Driscoll: bass
Brian Blade: drums/voice