Robert Shore, Jazzwise Magazine, July 2019
This charming chamber jazz project foregrounds the pianistic lyricism of Frank Harrison and the ethereal vocals of multilingual singer Brigitte Beraha. Tackling themes of home and love, the album is built on an aesthetic of quiet intimacy, piano and voice only twice being supplemented – on the second track, ‘Falling’ by Enzo Zirilli’s gently eerie percussion, and on the final cut, ‘Two Tone Tune’, where Patrick Bettison’s harmonica provides slivers of breathy support.
The opening number, ‘The Man Who Cycled From India For Love’, tells of an Indian artist who got on his bike to pedal many thousands of miles to be reunited with his love in Sweden: the song so charmed its real-life subjects, they made the journey to London (though probably not by bike) with their son to attend the album launch. Beraha, how regularly draws comparison to Norma Winstone, sings in French and Italian as well as English (she also contributes an Italian lyric in the case of ‘Magica Nostra’, but she also brings a magical, dreamy wistfulness when she sings wordlessly on several pieces, including the title-track. A charmingly understated release.
John Fordham, The Guardian, June 2018
Norma Winstone-inflected but intimately original singer Brigitte Beraha and pianist Frank Harrison make a beautiful partnership on the low-key but affecting The Way Home.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views, May 2018
This is a stunningly beautiful album from this intrepid duo. Full of wonderful melodies, sensitive accompaniment, and Beraha's unique voice, this is a recording that I frequently finding myself getting lost in the intimate world of these remarkable musicians.
Frank Harrison maybe best known for his eighteen year association with Gilad Atzmon and his Orient House Ensemble, but has also a sound CV having played with Peter King, Don Weller, Alan Barnes, John Etheridge and Louis Stewart, to name a few; as well as leading his own highly regarded trio which has released several albums over the last dozen years.
His partner in this musical journey, Brigitte Beraha, is becoming somewhat of ubiquitous presence of late (which is no bad thing, incidentally) having been featured on recent recordings by Ed Jones, Alcyona Mick & Tori Freestone and Dave Manington's Riff Raff, and together they have formed a small ensemble that rivals any of the current scene.
As one might expect, the music performed is often quiet, introspective, and impeccably perfromed; but beyond that it is music that is totally absorbing. Demanding to be heard, it is impossible to listen to this set without giving it your full attention, piano and voice inhabit a world that invites the listener in, sharing more of it's secrets with each new hearing.
Harrison takes a quick look back over his shoulder with a solo rendition of Don Sebesky's 'You Can't Go Home Again', a theme reprised from his debut album First Light released in 2006, but it is the nine original compositions that make this album so special. There are three pieces penned by the pianist that feature Beraha's wordless vocals that blend piano and voice so seamlessly that it is almost impossible imagine the quietly playful 'For Fred (and Robert)' and the fragile beauty of the title track existing in any other context, and the cleverly worked 'Two Tone Tune'. Equally compelling is Brigitte's 'Day By Day' with the piano perfectly complementing the inherent optimism of the lyrics.
The magic continues in the jointly composed pieces that confirm and cement the compatibility of these two artists. Especially fine are 'The Broken Lantern' and 'Magica Nostra', sung in Italian, with the lilting and infectious piano dancing alongside Beraha's vocals. The guest musicians compliment the album with their gentle and subtle contributions, and the tonal palette is also graced with the subtle use of synthesizer and electronics, but in essence the music is all about piano and voice in perfect accord.
There has always been a penchant within jazz for quiet chamber like music, a different kind of swing if you like, and this album must rank along with the very best.
Sebastian Scotney, LondonJazzNews, May 2018
Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha:
The Way Home album launch at Kings Place, London
There was a substantial and supportive turn-out for this Kings Place album launch by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Frank Harrison. Beraha is increasingly a pivotal figure on the London scene, in the same way that Sienna Dahlen is in Montreal. As a singer she is first-call for many composers, in the certainty that she will be able to bring sense and sensitivity to more or less any vocal line... at the opposite extreme from last night, I find that a memory of all the anger and angularity in Martin Hathaway's The Silent Assassins springs to mind. And as a singing teacher for jazz students there may be no more influential figure in London.
Beraha's highly effective partnership with Frank Harrison is, on balance and in the main, more unashamedly lyrical, than, say her collaborations with Barry Green and John Turville. The duo with Harrison goes back around five years, and is a continuing, living thing. The material on the album The Way Home (Linus Records) was all recorded more than two years ago, and last night's concert demonstrated that the partnership has evolved and taken on new life since then, in particular with a commission from Oxford Contemporary music to set poems by David Attwell (the OCM website seems to have no information about it). The new songs dealt with a whole range of quirky subjects, such as the emotional hold of email communication and the unpredictability of (electronic) spam, a song which effetively brought to the fore Beraha's jazz inflections. The most surreal of these was Message for an Agnostic Angel ("We sail upstream / and miles inland.")
One highlight was a setting of a poem in French by Maud Hart, and the poet had made a special trip from the Alsace to witness the performance. There was also a family from Sweden present, whose heart-warming story was chronicled in our preview of the gig.
The most abiding memory of the gig was the ease with which Beraha's voice and Harrison's right hand at the piano seamlessly kept a melodic line going, and of how naturally Beraha moves from singing words to singing wordlessly, and how both complement each other. Monika Jakubowska's pictures from the soundcheck have really caught the the many-splendoured joys of this tender, intimate, warm-hearted and inspiring gig.
Chris Ingham, Mojo, February 2015
Live at The Verdict
Whether part of Gilad Atzmon's tremendous Orient House Ensemble or leading his own trio, Frank Harrison has steadily developed into a pianist of great depth and character, never straining for effect, telling it just how it is. His trio featuring Dave Whitford (Bass) and Enzo Zirilli (Drums) are caught live in this delightful, spontaneous set full of wit, subtlety and gorgeous strangeness.
Adrian Pallant, AP Reviews, January 2015
In April 2014, acclaimed British jazz pianist Frank Harrison launched his latest studio album, Lunaris – a work I described then as an “anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, possessing an overriding sense of equanimity”, created with the new trio line-up of Dave Whitford (double bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums).
During each evening of the Lunaris launch tour, Harrison decided to set up his own digital recorder to capture a personal record of their gigs. After replaying the session from The Verdict, Brighton, it was decided to release five of the extended tracks as a free download (or as a CD which includes an excellent ten-minute bonus number). The resulting Live at The Verdict album, Frank freely declares, is ‘lo-fi’ – but, once acclimatised to that sonic zone (which exudes the excitement of a live feed), it’s a beautiful account of the freedom and conviviality to be found in this trio’s live performances.
The animation of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned (from Lunaris) becomes enhanced in this setting, Harrison brightly improvising and then passing the baton to Whitford and Zirilli who, individually, are equal to the challenge, and appreciated by the audience. The ambience of this recording conjures memories of great jazz gigs we’ve been privileged to be a part of – the thrill of the unexpected, the marvelling of the very real musicianship unfolding before our eyes. Harrison’s own Flowing at Rest (from the Sideways album) enjoys the space to slowburn, with Whitford extemporising broadly and eloquently; and Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz strides out to the easy-going pace of Whitford and Zirilli, with Harrison glittering (as he so often does) at the upper extremities of the piano before prompting a four-square percussive solo display from Zirilli – absolute magic!
Cole Porter’s Everything I Love swings with unabashed abandon, an irresistibly cohesive display from the whole trio who intuitively track every next move, Harrison inviting deft solo explorations from his drummer; and jaunty, familiar standard Tea for Two is unusually reinterpreted as a restrained, ornamented ballad with glorious echoes of Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Bonus track Autumn Leaves (recorded live in Oxford) appears as never before, introduced by a resonantly top-end percussive bass display from Whitford. ‘Name that tune’ contenders would struggle with this contemporary twist of the Joseph Kosma favourite – testament to Harrison’s spirit of retaining tradition yet pushing it to the limits as, with clarity, he solos brightly and dextrously. This track alone is worth Harrison’s modest CD price tag, Zirilli’s toms working overtime and Whitford as nimble as ever. Evidence enough that this trio needs to be experienced ‘live’.
Juerg Sommer, Schweiz am Sonntag, July 2014
Elegant, kultiviert und expressiv – das Frank Harrison Trio
Der britische Pianist Frank Harrison ist Mitglied von Gilad Atzmons künstlerisch und kommerziell höchst erfolgreichem Orient House Ensemble. Als Leiter seines eigenen Trios mit bisher drei CDs erkundet er, ganz der Jazztradition verpflichtet, überraschend frische und eigenständige Wege in der Nachfolge von Bill Evans, Chick Corea und Keith Jarrett. Repertoire des Harrison-Trios auf der CD «Lunaris» sind Jazzstandards und gewitzte eigene Kompositionen. Ein wärmstens empfohlener Appetizer.
Elegant, cultivated and expressive – the Frank Harrison Trio
British pianist Frank Harrison is a member of Gilad Atzmon’s artistically and commercially highly successful “Orient House Ensemble”. As a leader of his own trio with three CDs recorded under his name, he has showed a lot of respect for the jazz tradition. On the other hand he is also exploring surprisingly fresh and absolutely original paths following his heroes such as Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. Harrison’s trio repertoire on “Lunaris” is made of jazz standards and well-conceived originals. Definitely a musical treat, thus highly recommended!
Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen, July 2014
I recall being impressed with British pianist Frank Harrison years ago, when I heard him on albums by Israeli-born British saxophonist Gilad Atzmon. But it’s only in the last few days that I’ve heard Harrison’s work as a leader — on his most recent album Lunaris — and I like it.
Harrison’s a 36-year-old who studied for a time at the Berklee College of Music but who for all his considerable sophistications sounds not at all over-schooled or cerebral. A flowing, immediate and personal player, Harrison, bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirilli are well attuned to each other as they move through a program that frequently stresses lyrical, forthright playing but also delves into episodes of free, collective improvising.
The disc, which was released a few months ago, opens with a measured rendition of a lesser-known ballad, My Love And I, and blossoms with a version of I’m Old-Fashioned, set smartly to an open, two-feel, post-Poinciana groove that brings the Keith Jarrett trio in its early days to mind. Here’s a live version from Harrison’s trio of that piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSt9R14WEkg
The trio’s approach to Johnny Mandel’s Emily is similar, with the tune distinguished by an open groove, much interplay and fluid improvising.
From Harrison’s own pen, there’s the winsome waltz Sunrise (Port Meadow), as well as the sombre, processional tone poem Io, the questing Latin piece Ascentand a pair of free improvisations, the groove-based BoRg-58 and the more harmonically charged and tense An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs. These last two pieces are concise and perhaps even edited. Other pianists and groups might have pushed their exploring further to generate long wending improvisations with more pronounced ups and downs, and I doubt that would have been beyond Harrison’s group.
Rounding out the disc are four solo piano tracks. Stars and its companion vignette Stars II push into the realm of contemporary classical harmony, The Recruited Collier brings a dose of classically tinged lyricism to the disc’s mix and The Bird is by turns grand, ominous and tender.
I like the sturdiness and eloquence of Harrison’s playing and the multi-directional nature of exploring. (There’s some synthesizer deployed discretely on a few tracks to broaden the sonic palette without hijacking the music.) It’s a shame that the pianist, among many other U.K. jazz artists doesn’t make it to North America to perform and raise his profile — I’m sure jazz fans here would dig him.
Peter Bacon, thejazzbreakfast.com, June 2014
The David Raskin song My Love And I has had some gorgeous interpretations. It’s a favourite of Charlie Haden’s, and there is an epic version on his Quartet West album Always Say Goodbye and a more ruminative reading on Nightfall, his duo album with John Taylor. I think the Harrison Trio’s version will now join those in the top drawer. Pianist Harrison doesn’t do anything fancy with it – such a perfectly composed tune doesn’t need it – but in his chord voicings and his timing he shows he is perfectly in tune with its intention.
Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned gets a more explorative reading, especially from Enzo Zirilli’s perky cymbals and tom-toms accompaniment, and again the note choice from Harrison and double bassist Dave Whitford is spot on.
Apart from these two openers, a traditional folk tune and Johnny Mandel’s Emily, Harrison devotes the rest of the CD to his own writing or three-way improvisations. His own compositional palette is more impressionist, with his Debussy-ish chords underpinned by slides from Whitford and cymbal scrapes from Zirilli, or carefully voiced melodies stated with precision and grace.
Io is particularly effective - I couldn’t quite understand whether the shining overtones were from Zirilli’s scraped cymbals or Harrison’s synthesiser, but I loved them however generated. (Frank has since told me they were made with his synth but that in gigs Enzo has been getting a similar sound by scraping a cork across his cymbals – so there you are!)
Sunrise (Port Meadow) is nothing short of a modern standard, and should be taken up by other bands. It has a melody and mood that makes you want to dance round the room, and loads of improvisational potential, as Whitford shows in his solo.
This is the third trio album from the pianist more usually heard with Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and he grows with each release. With Whitford and Zirilli he sounds like he has hit on a winning team, so I was really sorry to miss the band’s tour last month. If you missed it too here is the ideal way to catch up.
Melody Maclaren, London Jazz News, June 2014
Lunaris, the fourth CD release from the Frank Harrison Trio (Linus Records, April 2014), is the latest instalment in an intriguing musical journey which reflects its leader’s continuing experimentation - with rhythmic space, harmony, thematic content, as well as with the makeup of the Trio itself.
In reviewing Lunaris, I should declare up-front a significant degree of partiality. I had been so mesmerized by the Trio’s début album, First Light (Basho Records, 2006) – which featured Harrison on piano, Scottish bassist Aidan O’Donnell and Irish drummer Stephen Keogh – that I was inspired to take up jazz piano upon hearing the Trio’s first live performance at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge in January 2006. That album also had a powerful effect on other people, including reviewer Ian Mann and Lyth Arts Centre director William Wilson who, after hearing the CD, not only helped arrange performances for the Trio in Scotland during August 2007, but was inspired to transcribe Harrison’s piano performance in the album’s opening track, Don Sebesky’s You Can’t Go Home Again, which he and I took turns playing on the Centre’s Steinway when we met ahead of the Trio’s Lyth concert. We – and other jazz lovers – became instant fans of the spacious, immaculate playing on ballads such as this that became the Trio’s trademark.
First Light also established Frank Harrison as a true experimentalist. More than half the album featured original tunes (Afternoon in Tromso, First Light, Jinni, Maria’s Planet Song and Falling) alongside the reconstructed standards (What Is This Thing Called Love, Nature Boy) and a film theme (Love Theme from Spartacus). This work not only showcased Harrison’s innovative compositional and pianistic talents, but also O’Donnell’s virtuosity and Keogh’s nuanced brushwork, all bound together by listening which appeared to verge on the telepathic.
Keogh then instigated You’ve Changed (Desert Island Jazz Productions, 2007) a project which united the Trio with legendary Irish guitarist Louis Stewart to produce an album of exquisite, lyrical standards. After the Trio’s CD launch tour, O’Donnell, still in his mid-20s, emigrated to pursue his career in the New York jazz scene. In between their respective musical projects, Harrison (touring and performing with Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble) and Keogh (directing the Global Music Foundation) experimented with other bass players until selecting German-based Italian Davide Petrocca for the Trio’s second incarnation.
With this new wonderfully sensitive, mature bassist now on board, the new Trio produced Sideways under Harrison’s own label (Linus Records, 2012). This album exhibited many of the hallmarks of the first Trio’s recorded and live performances – spacious balladic playing (How Long Has This Been Going On), playful reconstruction of other standards (Autumn Leaves, Dindi, You And The Night and the music) and three Harrison originals (One, Flowing At Rest, Song for Roo) and traditional folk music (The Riddle Song).
But a few months later, Harrison signalled a major change in musical direction by replacing both his Trio bandmates. Petrocca’s bassist role was taken by Dave Whitford, who had played with Harrison and Keogh for a period after O’Donnell emigrated to America. Keogh, who had helped Frank launch the Trio and had been instrumental in its development, was replaced by London-based Italian drummerEnzo Zirilli.
Those of us who were long-time fans of Harrison’s Trio – in both its previous incarnations – were extremely surprised by these personnel changes and wondered what would emerge from this radically re-vamped ensemble. But perhaps the truth is that the best musicians – Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and many others come to mind – are prepared to take creative risks across the long arc of their careers, whatever the short-term consequences.
And so, to Lunaris. While many of the original trademark contents of the Trio’s earlier CDs are still superficially evident – a lyrical, balladic film theme (My Love and I from the 1954 film Apache, echoing Love Theme from Spartacus), a re-worked traditional folk song (The Recruited Collier, a successor to The Riddle Song), reconstructed standards (I’m Old Fashioned and Emily, following on fromAutumn Leaves, Dindi and many others) and an upbeat, melodic original (Sunrise (Port Meadow), reminiscent of Song for Roo) - we are seeing the emergence of a quite different Trio with a significantly altered energy and balance. This is most evident in the originals: Harrison is still playing with space but with this Trio he is going further afield with his harmonic and sound experiments, particularly in the celestially-themed pieces (Stars, An Evening Of Spaceships and UFOs, Io, Stars II) which are mirrored in the images by Andrew Walton which appear on the cover and the interior of the CD booklet. And in Ascent, The Bird and BoRG-58 we see a quite different range of textures in the interplay with drummer Enzo Zirilli and bassist Dave Whitford – busier, funkier, with spikes of emotional intensity.
What is also striking from having watched and photographed the new Trio performing live (most recently at Herts Jazz in March 2013 and at their April 2014Pizza Express CD launch) is that the atmosphere on-stage is more light-hearted and playful than it once was. Frank Harrison has always exhibited a dry, understated wit (he jokes, for example, about writing songs that are “miserable” and about not really having anything to say to the audience) but now he seems genuinely relaxed and comfortable with Whitford and Zirilli, and they with him. Interestingly, Lunaris is the first Trio CD to feature a photo (taken by Orient House Ensemble photographer Tali Atzmon) of the musicians, placing them overtly in the foreground.
Perhaps Frank Harrison has simply matured, but I suspect he is also just enjoying the freedom of continuing musical experimentation with the Trio, whose journey began in 2005. As Ralph Waldo Emerson has said: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better". Long may Frank Harrison's experiments continue.
Dan McClenaghan, All About Jazz, June 2014
London-based pianist Frank Harrison is probably best known for his work backing saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, but his Lunaris should help to raise his profile as a major league piano trio guy. It's Harrison's third recorded effort in the trio format, and it stands out in a crowded field full of talent.
Harrison and the trio go against common advice and open with a ballad, a solemn, tender, gorgeously spacious take on David Raksin's tune from the 1954 movie Apache, "My Love and I." It's not the most familiar of Great American Songbook compositions, but saxophonist Coleman Hawkins put it on display on his Today and Now (Impulse! Records, 1963), and bassist Charlie Haden covered it with his Quartet West on Sophisticated Ladies ( Decca Records, 2011). Harrison, bassistDave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirille slow it down to a sensual crawl, wringing every drop of beauty from the melody. Don't open with a ballad unless you can do it this well.
The much covered "I'm Old Fashioned" rides a rhumba groove. Keith Jarrett and his Standard's Trio gave the same treatment to "Poinciana" on their Whisper Not (ECM Records, 2000) set, and here it acts as a perfect step-up-the-pace, brighten-the-room follow-up to the opener.
"Stars" is an abstract Harrison original, a solo piano effort, with delicate notes flashing like celestial lights blinking on in a dark sky, followed by what must be trio improvisation, the enigmatic "An Evening of Spacehips and UFOs," to let us know this isn't going to be a straight-though standards album—there's going to be more mystery and exploration here. The tune wanders in deep space until a gravitational pull asserts itself, drawing the trio into a groove. The Harrison original, "Io" (one of the planet Jupiter's four Galilean moons) has a subtle, eerie sheen added to the composition's majesty by the addition of Harrison's synthesizer colorings. "Sunrise (Port Meadow)" is bright and hopeful. "BoRG-58" is a prickly, muscular trio improvisation. Johnny Mandel's "Emily" has never sounded lovelier or more lively, with exceptional trio interplay, leading into the disc's closer, Harrison's solo "Stars II," a brief, lean, beautiful rumination.
Lunaris is a marvelous piano trio outing—fresh takes on some of the standards and a bunch of forward-leaning originals by a piano star on the rise.
Ian Mann, thejazzmann.com, May 2014
Pianist Frank Harrison is probably best known to many listeners as Gilad Atzmon’s “musical right hand man”. He has been a member of Atzmon’s regular working band, the Orient House Ensemble, since its inception in the late 1990s, a key collaborator and,with Atzmon himself, the only constant member of the group following a series of changes in the bass and drum chairs.
Alongside his work with the remarkable Israeli born multi-instrumentalist Harrison has conducted a parallel career as the leader of his own piano trio. He is currently on tour in support of his third album release as a leader, the moon themed “Lunaris” recorded with bassist Dave Whitford and Italian born drummer Enzo Zirilli, the latter a sometime member of the Orient House Ensemble.
Harrison is a musician who likes to re-invent his trio on a regular basis. His début solo album, the immaculately recorded “First Light” (Basho Records, 2006) , featured the rhythm team of bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh and was one of the first albums I ever reviewed. Today it still remains something of a personal favourite.
For 2012’s “Sideways”, released on his own Linus imprint, Harrison retained the services of Keogh but introduced a new bass player in the shape of the Italian born, German based Davide Petrocca, the latter an exciting new discovery for UK jazz audiences. I had intended to see this line up perform at Cheltenham Jazz Club in February 2012 but was thwarted by the snowy conditions. Happily two years later on a gloriously bright and sunny spring day there were no such difficulties involved in catching up with the latest incarnation of Harrison’s trio.
Cheltenham Jazz Club help to ensure a jazz presence in the town throughout the year and are an entirely separate entity from the renowned annual festival. The club hosts monthly events at either the Studio Theatre at the Everyman or at the nearby Victory Club, both institutions that have proved to be very welcome and accommodating. For details of future events (another piano trio led by Jonathan Gee will be visiting in May) please visit http://www.cheltenhamjazz.co.uk
I’ve been in the splendid main house at the Everyman Theatre many times for Jazz Festival events (it’s a shame that it’s no longer a festival venue) but tonight represented my first visit to the smaller Studio. This proved to be an intimate, if somewhat utilitarian, performance space with good acoustics and with a capacity of 80 proved to be ideal for the kind of small group jazz purveyed by Harrison and his trio. An attendance of just over seventy represented a virtual sell out and the crowd were attentive, receptive, knowledgeable and supportive making for an excellent atmosphere. Harrison played a somewhat dilapidated looking upright acoustic piano but it sounded good and blended well with the other instruments in what was overall an excellent sound balance.
“Lunaris” presents the usual Harrison mix of original compositions plus innovative arrangements of pieces from the “standards” repertoire and beyond, for example tonight’s set revealed Harrison’s penchant for film music. Although half of the material on the new album is composed by Harrison tonight’s focus was on the adventurous interpretations of standards, many of them unrecorded by Harrison in the trio format. Some of these explorations were effectively deconstructions with tantalising snatches of the original melodies mutated into strange new shapes to create virtually new compositions - I certainly didn’t recognise everything straight away and had to seek a measure of clarification from Frank after the gig.
In Whitford and Zirilli Harrison had the ideal partners for these musical adventures, highly competent players with formidable technical abilities and the kind of enquiring minds that were right on Harrison’s wavelength. This was a highly interactive trio intent on having fun with their chosen material and tackling their subject matter with the kind of skill and daring that is the prerogative of musicians who “know that they are good”.
The evening commenced with a couple of tunes from the new “Lunaris” album beginning with Harrison’s “Sunrise (Port Meadow)”, the composer soon lost in reverie as he built upon his own gorgeous melody with an expansive solo that revealed a distinct Keith Jarrett influence. Zirilli’s role here was that of colourist with his cymbal work particularly atmospheric and well judged. The supremely versatile Whitford delivered the first of several excellent bass solos. Something of an unsung hero he’s a musician I’ve seen a lot of lately in a variety of contexts ranging from singer Christine Tobin’s intimate trio to saxophonist Stan Sulzmann’s large ensemble the Neon Orchestra. Also a great organiser Whitford is UK jazz’s Mr. Dependable and his playing never fails to impress.
Also from the album Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned” was the first of the many voyages of discovery based around a jazz standard. Introduced by Zirilli at the drums the piece embraced contemporary grooves plus complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas with Harrison’s flowing solo consistently full of invention. In Whitford Harrison had a bassist who could cope with everything the pianist could throw at him and still impress with his own contribution. The piece concluded with a thrilling series of exchanges between Harrison and Zirilli, some of them positively fiery as the Italian swapped brushes for sticks.
Harrison dipped into the “Sideways” repertoire for the original “Song For Roo”, a joyous dedication to his wife that began in semi ballad fashion but soon gathered momentum to express something far more celebratory with Harrison and Whitford making strong solo statements along the way.
By Harrison’s own admission his tunes are more commonly sombre or even “miserable” in terms of emotional content. To illustrate his precept the trio performed the supremely atmospheric “Io”, sourced from the new album. A solo introduction of almost funereal solo piano was later enhanced by deeply resonant bass and eerie cymbal scrapes with Zirilli subsequently playing much of the tune with his bare hands. Despite Harrison’s self deprecating introduction the piece possessed a chilly beauty that the audience clearly found highly moving and ironically this “dirge” was accorded one of the best audience receptions of the night. It was apparent throughout the evening that although the audience weren’t applauding every solo this was because they were fully immersed in the music as opposed to lacking in appreciation. The overall vibe was warm and appreciative.
The trio returned to the standards repertoire for an extraordinary version of “Autumn Leaves”, a piece that Harrison first tackled on the “Sideways” album. The level of group interaction here was little short of phenomenal with Harrison’s sparkling solo leading the way, the pianist again lost in reverie as he pushed and stretched the boundaries of the song with the support of his similarly adventurous colleagues. In addition to his skills as a colourist Zirilli can also play with power and precision as he demonstrated on the closing drum solo, arms and legs flailing in a manner that reminded me of a comment made by Dave Stewart, former keyboards man with Hatfield and The North about the band’s drummer, the late, great Pip Pyle - “ playing like an octopus on amphetamines!”
An hour long, value for money, first half closed with a similarly radical makeover of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz”, which began conventionally enough before branching out with Harrison’s scintillating, free flowing solo above Zirilli’s bustling, increasingly assertive drum grooves, Whitford’s powerfully plucked bass solo and finally a series of volcanic drum breaks. This high energy finale sent the crowd into the interval in good humour and half time CD sales were gratifyingly brisk.
Harrison’s love of film music manifested itself at the beginning of the second set with the trio’s interpretation of the “Love Theme From Spartacus” (from “First Light”), the air of fragile romance characterised by Harrison’s spacious solo piano introduction and the gently sympathetic support afforded by double bass and brushed drums.
From “Lunaris” the Harrison original “Ascent”, based around an escalating piano motif ,introduced an E.S.T. like feel with its contemporary sounding grooves and discursive piano soloing with Whitford and Zirilli building up an impressive head of steam behind the relentlessly inventive Harrison.
The standard “ I Should Care” opened with a passage of lyrical solo piano as Whitford and Zirilli paused to take on water following their exertions on the previous number. By the trio’s standards this was delivered in relatively conventional fashion with solos coming from Harrison and Whitford.
David Raskin’s “My Love And I”, the love theme from the film “Apache”, opens the new album and represents yet another Harrison excursion into the world of cinema. Introduced her by a piano / bass duet the air of lush romanticism was continued by the subsequent solos from Harrison and Whitford. However Zirilli’s delicate and neatly detailed brush work was spoiled when a small cymbal tottered from his kit and fell upon the floor, the resultant crash breaking the mood and drawing a word of apology from the errant drummer plus a rueful look at the offending floor-bound object. Harrison just about kept himself together and managed to stop himself laughing, taking the incident in his stride and making a joke of it. The Cheltenham audience was also suitably forgiving of Zirilli’s impromptu “Keith Moon moment”.
The bebop standard “If I Were A Bell” followed, suddenly feeling enormously appropriate as Harrison wove the “Pompey Chimes” into the fabric of the tune in a high energy workout characterised by Harrison’s feverish soling and a closing drum feature in which Zirilli was invited to make as much noise as he liked . Shades of that hyperactive, psychedelic octopus again.
“Tea For Two” - dubbed “Three For Two” by Harrison in the light of his CD offer – was rendered as a ballad, an inventive re-imagination of the tune introduced by a passage of solo piano with Harrison later supported by a rich bass undertow and the swish of delicately brushed drums. Whitford’s bass solo was outstandingly melodic, one of his best of the night.
An energetic reading of the bop standard “Doxy” closed an excellent evening of music making with features for all three members of the group. There was to be no encore as the band had to dash back to London. Zirilli’s punishing schedule would see him almost immediately boarding a plane to Italy
for a series of other engagements.
However nobody could complain of being short changed following two hour long sets of fiercely imaginative and interactive music making from a very well matched trio. As I’ve observed in previous articles Harrison’s radical and inventive approach to standards rivals that of Brad Mehldau, with an obvious love of the source material tempered by an equally obvious desire to subvert it, do something different with it and stamp his own authority on it – and Harrison does it all with a smile on his face. His free flowing invention may recall Mehldau and Jarrett but Harrison is very much his own man. And he’s clearly relishing this opportunity to do his own thing away from the giant shadow of Atzmon. He may not have Atzmon’s charisma as a “front man” but his slightly nervous, very British announcing style contained several flashes of genuine humour, something which often carried on into the music with fleeting pianistic quotes and allusions peppering the playing. But tonight was also a great team effort with Whitford and Zirilli deserving enormous credit for their individual and collective contributions.
Meanwhile the “Lunaris” album, released again on Harrison’s own Linus label and featuring the distinctive artwork of Andrew Walton is well worthy of investigation and is highly recommended. With a greater reliance on original material it’s rather different to tonight’s show but Harrison is also a talented writer and his own compositions deserve to be heard. His recorded output plus live performances such as this evening’s demand that he be considered among the top flight of British jazz pianists.
Andrew Pallant, AP Reviews, May 2014
Many moons ago, Frank Harrison’s pianistic virtuosity and compositional brilliance first captured my imagination. As a cornerstone of Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, and then with his own piano trios, it was Harrison’s perfect marriage of creative rebellion and heart-on-sleeve sensitivity which stood out from the crowd. So, following up 2012′s excellent Sideways (Linus Records), it’s a real pleasure to discover this new trio release,Lunaris, which refines those attributes.
There’s a change of line-up as the pianist welcomes the prodigious talents of double bassist Dave Whitford and, on drums, Enzo Zirilli. Between them, they spark something fresh – an approach which includes recurring celestial and planetary themes, as well as references to English landscape and folksong. Individually, the twelve pieces – Harrison originals and interpretations of standards, plus collaborative freestyle improvisations – are attractively constructed mini-masterpieces. Collectively, they form a well-balanced fifty-minute anthology of warmth, exploration, unpredictability and, ultimately, an overriding sense of equanimity.
A typically pellucid reading of the classic David Raksin number, My Love and I, opens the album – dreamy and unhurried, Frank Harrison keeps its deep, recognisable melody aloft, bass and brushed drums caressing every nuance. The delicate geniality of Jerome Kern’s I’m Old Fashioned is a joy, ringing to Enzo Zirilli’s precise yet enquiring percussion which varicolours this bright interpretation, Harrison’s customary keyboard poise so tangible.
From this opening familiarity of melody, a panoply of astral discovery is unveiled with the first of two miniatures – Stars – its spacial, searching piano chords subtly enhanced by synthesiser twinklings. Continuing the night sky observation, An Evening of Spaceships and UFOs is a remarkable group improvisation which confirms this trio’s new-found empathy. A mysterious deep bass rhythm set up by Dave Whitford has a sonority and momentum reminiscent of Dan Berglund’s work with e.s.t., intertwining with Harrison’s supple, measured chord progressions and solo lines; and, around all this, Zirilli percussively paints vivid streaks of asteroids and shooting stars. Following on, the weightlessness of Io – one of Jupiter’s four moons – is softly imagined via a restrained piano/synth and bass ostinato, shimmering all the while with ethereal and atmospheric beauty (I intend taking these tracks to a dark-sky zone!).
Sunrise (Port Meadow) announces daylight with a lilting 6/8 melody which racks the mind, searching for the title of a much-loved standard – but this is another from Harrison’s pen, evoking the natural beauty of Oxford’s ancient riverside pasturelands. The new compositions continue with Ascent, climbing apace and displaying lively interaction within the trio, maybe providing a glimpse of extended development in a live setting; and, at the summit, there are the ominous soarings of The Bird, conveyed by the pianist’s shapeshifting chordal tracery and dark bass octaves. BoRG-58, another group improvisation (its title referencing far-flung galaxies), brings arresting open fifths grooving from Whitford and Harrison (a hint of Esbjörn) and broad, cross-patterned drumming from Zirilli – with understated synth infusions, its a winning combination.
The emotion of Frank Harrison’s solo discipline is to be found in a wistful rendition of traditional North East English folk tune The Recruited Collier – assured and clean, with the most sumptuous harmonies, time momentarily stands still. Johnny Mandel’s late ’50s song Emily (a favourite of Bill Evans) waltzes through its several minutes, Harrison and Whitford soloing radiantly to Zirilli’s gently sifting rhythm; and to close, the brief, sustained, Debussy-like Stars II suggests upward-looking wonderment towards an endless universe.
Finally, acknowledgement must be made to landscape painter Andrew Walton, whose cover and booklet art so beautifully reflects an album of exquisite musical imagery.
John Fordham, The Guardian, February 2012
Frank Harrison is saxophonist Gilad Atzmon's regular pianist, so UK audiences often hear him skilfully navigating middle-eastern, north African and southern European folk music. But he's currently touring this elegant, straightahead jazz with the subtle, Barcelona-based Irish drummer Stephen Keogh and the agile former Monty Alexander bassist Davide Petrocca. With its softly swinging grooves under songs by Gershwin or Jobim, plenty of bass solos and a predominantly throttled-back feel, this sounds pretty familiar – but Harrison's delicate touch and thoughtful narrative-building lift it above the crowd. The opening Autumn Leaves prevaricates at first, teasingly hinting at harmonies that eventually coalesce into the classic theme. Then it becomes a piano improvisation, full of sly timing, feints and weaves. Jobim's Dindi develops over Keogh's bustling snare-drum pattern and a single repeating bass note. How Long Has This Been Going On? is a patient ballad exposition that intensifies melodically without losing the mood. You and the Night and the Music appears out of hesitant doodlings, preoccupied brushwork and faintly agitated, morse-code stutters. It's a set of classy variations on a jazz method that goes back decades.
D. Oscar Groomes, O's Place Jazz Magazine, February 2012
We listened to this at least four times before we picked up the pen. That is a sure sign of a winner! Pianist Frank Harrison leads a trio with Davide Petrocca on bass and drummer Stephen Keogh. They make even overworked standards like "Autumn Leaves" sound good with fresh arrangements. Harrison includes three originals dispersed among three standards and classics making Sideways a worthy addition to any collection. ****
Kenny Matheison, The Scotsman, January 2012
Pianist Frank Harrison is probably best know as a member of saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s groups, but his debut CD in 2006 served notice that he is a considerable talent in his own right. This new release confirms that impression in some style. Harrison alternates fresh and compelling readings of standards (Autumn Leaves, Jobim’s Dindi, How Long Has This Been Going On and You and The Night and The Music) with three of his own compositions and one traditional tune, The Riddle Song. It adds up to a varied and absorbing programme of music that draws on the traditional piano trio virtues of melodic imagination, harmonic ingenuity and highly attentive interplay. The pianist’s lucid and inventive developments of the material are matched by the contributions of his collaborators, bassist Davide Petrocca (replacing Aidan O’Donnell from the earlier trio) and drummer Stephen Keogh. ****
Peter Bacon, thejazzbreakfast.com, January 2012
Harrison is most often heard playing in Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble, but here the English, Berklee-trained pianist is leading his own trio with two players very active on the Continent, bassist Davide Petrocca and drummer Stephen Keogh.
They alternate standards – Autumn Leaves, Dindi, How Long Has This Been Going On, You And The Night And The Music – with Harrison originals – One, Flowing At Rest, Song For Roo.
The playing is straight-ahead in the best sense – it eschews the fancy and the gimmicky for a marvellously direct and personal interpretation of the classic jazz piano style. Each instrument takes its traditional role, with bass and drums in support for much of the time, though there are some gorgeous bass solos and Keogh can stir up a real contrasting accent on the beat to drive the music in a fresh way.
Listen to bass and drums in Jobim’s Dindi, for example, for a prime lesson in how to drive a tune. Interestingly they give this classic Brazilian classic a far less languid pace than the usual jazz samba, with Keogh really building the snare decorations beautifully behind Harrison’s solo, and his traded solo loses none of the energy, gracefully pulling back into the head.
And what of Harrison himself? He is remarkably clear both in his melody statements and in his improvisations – he will follow and develop a pattern for ages, stretching, pulling, linking it over chorus after chorus, and knows at just what point he has exhausted it and it’s time to go on to something else. He also has a lovely touch. It sounds like he adds the very occasional nuance with electric keyboard or xylophone. (Or maybe that is his availability to adapt his touch?).
Listen to how he plays the head of How Long… - so true to the tune, yet bringing a freshness to it with just the occasional subtly revoiced chord or decoration.
His compositions are similarly direct, their clarity of melody line and harmonic structure making them sound simpler than they probably are.
That’s the abiding thought one is left with at the end of this disc – that there is absolutely no nonsense here, no self-indulgence, no foolery or false fanciness. It’s fine playing, and finely captured in a warm, spacious recording.
The closer is a delightful solo interpretation of that traditional riddle song that goes: ” I gave my love a cherry…”
What a fine way to start my listening year!
Chris Parker, LondonJazz, January 2012
Pianist Frank Harrison is probably most often heard in Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble, in which he plays both acoustic and electric instruments, but leading his own trio (as documented by Basho on the impressive 2006 album, First Light) he plays only the former, alongside bassist Davide Petrocca – who has replaced Aidan O'Donnell from First Light – and drummer Stephen Keogh.
It's worth stressing at the outset that this is very much a trio outing, Harrison's mellifluous, lyrical playing (tellingly leavened by vigorous, occasionally even tumultuous power where appropriate) interacting impeccably with the sonorous, full-toned Petrocca and the dexterous Keogh (the latter's contribution to a band perfectly summed up by US saxophonist Charles McPherson: 'He's not just a time keeper, but is a rhythmic co-creator as well').
This said, however, it is Harrison, at once lucid and elegant, but with an ability to imbue everything he plays with affecting tension, frequently released in sparkling, intense runs, who sets the tone of both the standards ('Autumn Leaves', 'How Long Has This Been Going On', 'You and the Night and the Music') and originals (not to mention an intriguing closer, the traditional 'Riddle Song') on this absorbing and musicianly album, the music from which can be heard on a UK trio tour, to take place in February 2012.
Ian Mann, thejazzmann.com, January 2012
One of the first album reviews I ever wrote was of pianist Frank Harrison’s excellent trio recording “First Light” released on Basho Records way back in 2006. The follow up has been a long time coming, mainly due to Harrison’s commitments with the phenomenally hard working Gilad Atzmon but it has been well worth the wait.
“Sideways”, released on what I assume to be Harrison’s own Linus imprint, exhibits many of the same virtues as its predecessor in a mix of memorable and melodic original tunes and artful deconstructions of a handful of jazz standards. The interplay between Harrison on piano, Irish born drummer Stephen Keogh (who also appeared on “First Light”) and new bassist Davide Petrocca is consistently excellent and the whole album exudes intelligence and good taste.
Listeners who only know of Harrison through his work with Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon may be surprised to hear just how good an acoustic pianist he is, readily able to combine a classical lightness of touch with a thorough understanding of the jazz tradition. Although I’ve mainly seen him with Atzmon I’ve also witnessed Harrison performing with Italian saxophonist Tommaso Starace and Irish guitarist Louis Stewart, his work with the latter featuring his most straight ahead playing to date. Having enjoyed both his trio recordings I’m now looking forward to seeing Harrison, Keogh and Petrocca on their forthcoming UK tour (dates listed below).
In the meantime there’s always this album to enjoy with Harrison and his colleagues commencing with “Autumn Leaves”, one of the most familiar jazz standards of them all. It’s to the trio’s credit that they find something fresh to say about this old chestnut with Harrison’s sparkling piano lines shadowed by Keogh’s colourful, neatly energetic drumming and with Petrocca initially filling an anchoring role. Petrocca then comes into his own with a fluid and imaginative bass solo before Harrison really stretches the boundaries of the tune in conjunction with Keogh as the piece draws to a close. I mentioned in my review of “First Light” that Harrison’s playing of standards is “like a more restrained Brad Mehldau” and that’s something that I feel still applies. Harrison uses less notes than Mehldau but he’s a highly lyrical and melodic player and makes every one count.
Harrison’s own composition “One” has the kind of melody that sounds timeless and this provides the inspiration for another superb Petrocca solo, the bassist more than adequately filling the shoes of the Scot Aidan O’Donnell who is now living and playing in New York.. Harrison himself plays sparingly and Keogh’s drumming is immaculate as always, subtly colouring the music with sticks, brushes and well chosen accents.
Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova “Dindi” is played at a slightly faster tempo than is usual with the quiet bustle of Keogh’s drums driving the song forward. Harrison’s solo has a probing, almost feverish quality and there’s another example of Petrocca’s remarkable dexterity before Keogh and Harrison trade ideas in exemplary fashion in a series of captivating drum/piano breaks.
A second Harrison original, “Flowing At Rest” has an ECM style sense of space and beauty with Keogh’s exquisite drum and cymbal work complementing Harrison’s supremely lyrical piano superbly. Keogh’s work throughout the album invites comparisons with the playing of such drum colourists as Jon Christensen and the late Paul Motian.
George Gershwin’s much performed standard “How Long Has This been going On” is given the lyrical and spacious Harrison treatment with sumptuous, flowing, languid piano from the leader and delicate brush work from Keogh underscored by the purr of Petrocca’s bass. It’s a masterclass in good taste and quiet restraint.
The theme to Harrison’s final original, “Song For Roo”, almost sounds as if it could be a jazz standard. The interplay between the three instruments in an intense passage mid tune is engrossing with Keogh’s drums sometimes taking over the lead. Harrison then resumes control for a more lyrical restatement of the theme.
Arthur Schwarz’s “You And The Night Of The Music”, a tune often played at a headlong tempo, is initially given a radical, slowed down treatment with the quiet but intense interplay between the instruments now the focus. The theme appears here and there as a snippet of melody that provides the jumping off point for the trio’s improvisations. Harrison’s subsequent solo speeds things up and there are also features for bass and drums. One can imagine that live versions of this piece will be substantially different each evening.
Following the complexities of the Schwarz piece the album ends on a note of unadorned simplicity and beauty with Harrison’s solo piano performance of the folk melody of “The Riddle Song” aka “I gave My Love A Cherry” which later mutated into “The Twelfth Of Never”. It’s a lovely way to finish an often beautiful album - even it does stir memories of the sickly saccharine 70’s version of “Twelfth Of Never” by Donny Osmond.
“Sideways” has been a long time coming but has been well worth the wait. It’s an intelligent, musicianly album with some first rate original tunes and some ingenious interpretations of standards. Recorded in Berlin and London by engineers Rainer Robben and Andrew Tulloch the sound is again immaculate and the playing likewise. Bass player Davide Petrocca, an Italian living in Germany represents an exciting new discovery and is a major factor in the album’s success. Although little known to UK audiences he has accrued a considerable reputation in Europe where he has toured with guitarist Martin Taylor, pianist Monty Alexander and many others.
Brian Soundy, UKJazzRadio, December 2011
Pianist Frank Harrison's name has been associated with many great names in the jazz world, and his intelligent, spacious and intensive style has always contributed and added to all the projects Frank has been involved in such as Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble in which Frank was a founder member in 2000.
Franks latest CD is Sideways, to be released in January 2012 released on Linus Records is superb...
Track one is Joseph Kosma's standard Autumn Leaves arranged by, or as Frank says, just happened during the recording, is a master piece. This improvised arrangement has all of Franks Hallmarks which has made him the exciting musician he is...The intense melodic form is something to celebrate. The Piano Trio is sometimes it's own worse enemy easily sliding into the conformity trap... Not the Frank Harrison Trio. Davide Petrocca on Bass offers some truly brilliant solutions to encourage the improvisation as does Stephen Keogh on drums drifting in and out of the melody.
How many different ways has Autumn Leaves been arranged and played, more to the point how many different ways have I played that tune.. but this is something quite special.. the only other arrangement that comes near Frank's is the vocal arrangement for Rachelle Ferrell.
Track 2 is a Frank Harrison Composition 'One'. A peaceful playground of chords, harmony and melody supported again by the bass of Davide Petrocca and Drums of Stephen Keogh. Although this is, as I said, a peaceful piece I still feel Franks intensity augmented by the space he allows... A very unobtrusive bass solo slides into the composition around half way, adds to the overall effect and just as unobtrusively slides away again. A beautiful composition.
Track 3 is Dindi, witten by the primary force behind the creation of the Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos-Jobim. Like Autumn Leaves a composition played by many jazz artists, and again Frank makes it his own. As in Autumn Leaves, this track finalised itself in the studio with Frank, Davide and Stephen meandering through the melody.
The bass and drums begin by setting the tempo and rhythm building anticipation of what's to come. The gradual build is almost nervy, one knows something is about the happen but what! I really like Franks arrangements, everything seems to happen organically. Soon we are full into the number with Franks usual intensity without any abruptness or loss of flow. Davide Petrocca's bass reaches a new high in this number with, again, an unobtrusive yet forceful bass solo.. Stephen Keogh's intense playing reaches a high before pulling back into the number working in total unison with the bass.
Track 4 another Frank Harrison composition is 'Flowing at Rest'. The title sums up how I feel about this CD, Its full of power, intensity but without knowingly distracting from the atmosphere created. Bass and drums working so close it's a dream for any musician... Davide Petrocca excels again with some brilliant bass work with Stephen Keogh's, tender in parts, sympathetic playing a perfect mix.
Track 5 Gershwin's How Long Has This Been Going on written in 1928 given the Frank Harrison treatment and very nice too. Skilful piano by Frank Harrison keeping an almost traditional feel but introducing surprises to let us know he is still there. A masterful track.
Track 6 Song For Roo a Frank Harrison composition launches almost directly into the main theme setting a platform for more to come.. Anticipation and atmosphere masterly created by all the musicians in this number. Slight changes in tempo and rhythm keeps the listener involved and waiting for an outcome, should there be one. It's the organic flow which is the outcome leaving the listener in a state of 'Flow at Rest'.
Track 7 The Arthur Schwartz standard You And The Night And The Music is for me the highlight of the CD. Not sure if this was arranged (think so) or another improvisation. Which ever it is, it's exhilarating, intense ( as is all Franks Work on this CD) and compulsive listening. Snippets of the melody appear for a few seconds then they are skilfully blended back into the main theme. It simultaneously kept me on my toes and relaxed by brain allowing to me to take in the nuances offered by the trio
Track 8 The Riddle Song (I Give My Love An Apple) is a very peaceful ending to this brilliant CD....
Frank Harrison's CD 'Sideways' summed up in a nutshell is the title of track 4 'Flow at Rest'. One would think that with so many ingredients going into the making of this CD it would be incomplete but no, it is exactly the opposite. Full of Franks history, skills and intelligence it's one of the most rounded and complete collections of work I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. I'm not usually stuck for words but my summing up of this superb and excellent CD is that it 'Flows at Rest'!
John Fordham, Jazz UK, June 2006
New acoustic-piano trios aren’t exactly rarities these days, but this debut for Gilad Atzmon’s regular pianist Frank Harrison - though it has some links to the open-ended approach of Brad Mehldau - certainly justifies lengthening the list. Harrison’s group features bassist Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh, two restrained and sensitive experts who burnish Harrison’s reflective music at every turn. There are three standards and five originals, and a meditative visit to the ‘Spartacus’ theme is a delectable dialogue between Harrison and the sonorous O'Donnell. The ballad ‘Jinni’ has a slowly-surging Bill Evans feel, but the music is mostly thoughtful, apart from a headlong, and very inventive, account of ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’.
Steve Baxter, Jazzviews.com, June 2006
Some time ago (obviously), Ronnie Scott apparently described Frank Harrison as "one of the most talented young musicians I have heard". Although (equally obviously), any praise from me doesn't carry quite the same weight, I've been a fan of Frank's playing for several years, ever since I first saw him with Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble. He's a key member of that band, and it's in that context that I've nearly always seen and heard him. Whether he's clowning around with Gilad, tentatively searching for just the right delicate chords to accompany a solo, or hammering the piano's innards to produce ominous sounds of impending war, what's most impressive is his concentration and above all his melodic and rhythmic invention. I have to admit that I don't always know what he's doing, but it always seems to make sense after the event. Now here he is with his own very classy trio and debut album, and it's a pleasure to be able to say nice things about it.
It's one of those albums that makes you sit up from the very first sequence of notes, in this case a low, ascending three notes ending in a chord that immediately establishes a mood of quiet melancholy for You Can't Go Home Again, and indeed for most of the album. Of the various aspects of Frank's piano style, the one most on show here is his more meditative side. What Is This Thing Called Love? begins in similar fashion, but soon develops a momentum as the bass and drums settle in, a subtly propulsive swing. This, plus the sure melodic sense and thoughtful chord placing, inevitably recalls (who else?) Bill Evans. But then, towards the end of the track, the more rhapsodic flights began to remind me of another, perhaps equally obvious, heavyweight comparison: this level of unforced virtuosity from all three and the almost playful approach surely sounds rather like Keith Jarrett's standards trio.
After the opening pair of standards, we get a sequence of Harrison originals, starting with Afternoon in Tronso. It's more abstract and whimsical in structure and mood, again recalling Jarrett, as does the following the title track, backed by free-form bass and drums. Jinni, in contrast, sounds like a ready-made instant standard.
Next up are two more non-originals. The ubiquitous Nature Boy is done solo and slow, with subtly chosen chords and harmonies (Evans again), while a more idiosyncratic choice is the Love theme from Spartacus, delivered with a beautiful simplicity. The album closes with two more Harrison originals that continue the contemplative mood. In fact, my only slight criticism would be that maybe there could have been a couple of more up-tempo tunes mixed in there somewhere. On the other hand, maybe that would have broken the spell. As it stands, this album is perfect for creating and sustaining a gently melancholic, but still somehow rather uplifting, atmosphere. Whenever that's the kind of mood you're in (or want to be in), this is the one to put on.
John Fordham, The Guardian, May 2006
Harrison is most familiar as Gilad Atzmon's pianist, and the 2006 Atzmon group's diversion toward keyboard electronics might suggest a hint of that on Harrison's personal debut. But this is an acoustic-trio set in Brad Mehldau territory, and the scalding pace and motivic zigzagging of What Is This Thing Called Love? is a reminder both of how much spark remains in this familiar jazz-ensemble format, and how many good examples of it there are in the UK.
Harrison is accompanied by the bassist they call Scotland's Dave Holland - Aidan O'Donnell - and by that sensitive small-group drummer Stephen Keogh. The pianist's quiet, rippling originals take five tracks; there are three standards, and a brooding account of the Spartacus theme with O'Donnell in conversational support. Harrison's swaying ballad Jinni is the most openly songlike of his own pieces (Bill Evans-like in its accelerating development), but - as with Mehldau - the most elliptical, preoccupied overtures develop unexpected fireworks.
Kenny Mathieson, Jazzwise, May 2006
Reading the press quotes that arrived with this disc made Frank Harrison sound like a cross between cited Art Tatum and a heavy metal guitarist ("cranium-shattering levels of intensity"). Whatever he was doing on those nights, the music on this impressive debut album reveals a very different picture of a player that we are likely to hear a lot more of in time to come.
His lucid, intelligent, spacious and beautifully controlled explorations are backed up by sensitive support from his fine Scottish-Irish rhythm section. Harrison's own compositions lead towards an evocative expressionism, as in 'Afternoon in Tromso', the haunting 'First Light', and 'Falling'. There are two more of his own pieces, 'Jinni' and 'Maria's Planet Song', alongside fresh and thoughtful interpretations of Cole Porter's 'What Is This Thing Called Love', Eden Ahbez's 'Nature Boy', performed as a solo piece that drifts nicely into 'Love Theme From Spartacus', and the less familiar opening track, Don Sebesky's delicate 'You Can't Go Home Again'.
Ian Mann, 24dash.com, April 2006
Oxford based pianist Frank Harrison (born 1978) is best known for his work with the fiery and charismatic Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon. In effect he has been Atzmon's musical "right hand man" for the last five years and has appeared on four of his albums.
However on this, his first album as leader Harrison reveals the more reflective side of his musical personality.
He is joined by the young Scottish bassist Aidan O'Donnell who is fast earning a big reputation for himself after working with fellow Scots saxophonist Tommy Smith and trumpeter Colin Steele. O'Donnell has also worked with Alan Skidmore (saxophone) and with visiting American saxophonist David Binney among others.
Completing an all Celtic rhythm section is Irish drummer Stephen Keogh who has been on the scene a while longer and who has played with a wide variety of artists including such legendary figures as Johnny Griffin and Lee Konitz. He can be a very powerful drummer in the appropriate context but his playing here is full of musicality and restraint.
The band is very much in the ethos of the modern piano trio with each of the players having an equal input into the group sound. There is great interaction between the players. You can almost hear the musicians thinking.
The material consists of five Harrison originals and four standards. Everything is played at medium or ballad tempo. Harrison deconstructs Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love" in the manner of a more restrained Brad Mehldau. "Nature Boy" is treated as a short and tender solo piano interlude.
On the original material there is something of the feel of an ECM session in the style of say, Bobo Stenson. Tracks such as "Afternoon In Tromso" and the title track "First Light" are very much in this vein as is the album's opener Don Sebesky's "You Can't Go Home Again". This impression is formed partly because the album is immaculately recorded.
Credit should be given to Stefano Amerio who engineered the session in Udine, Italy where the music was recorded and to Andrew Tulloch who mixed and mastered the album in London. The album was produced by Harrison and Keogh and there is a spacious quality to the production, which seems to make every note hang in the air in a manner reminiscent of Manfred Eicher's work with ECM.
Harrison is superb throughout the recording. His playing is always delicate but is also exploratory and probing. He plays sparingly, is never hurried and makes effective use of the spaces between the notes. O'Donnell supports him brilliantly. He is rock solid as an accompanist and dextrous and fluent in his solos. Keogh's drumming is apposite throughout. He is the epitome of good taste and reveals a whole new side to his playing.
This is an excellent debut from Harrison and as critics have pointed out an incredibly mature statement from such a young musician. The album compares well with John Taylor's immaculate "Angel Of The Presence" album which was released earlier this year. To be bracketed with the masterful Taylor is praise indeed and in Frank Harrison it would seem that the future of British jazz piano playing is in good hands.
Peter Bevan, Northern Echo, April 2006
Pianist Frank Harrison will be familiar from Gilad Atzmon's groups but this debut album presents him in a new light. He's accompanied by bass player Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh but it's Harrison who stands out on a session which is as delicate and expressive as anything else I've heard, helped by a crystal clear recording. It's simply beautiful.
Paul Medley, Oxford Times, March 2006
Oxford-born jazz pianist Frank Harrison made his mark with Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble, which won the prestigious BBC Jazz Award in 2003. First Light (Basho Records, SRCD 15-2) is his first album with his own trio, yet it has the feeling of a second or third. So often a jazz player's first recording will come across as a technical tour de force as if more fame comes from more notes played at greater speed. Harrison, with remarkable maturity, has skipped this phase and made an album that reveals the depth of his musicianship without forcing it on the listener.
In fact, rather the opposite. This album makes one think of Eric Satie playing jazz. It is full of space verging on silence, sudden unexpected harmonies and a feel of wide open space into which notes and phrases have been inserted with perfect accuracy. In the second track, Cole Porter's What Is This Thing Called Love, Harrison gives us the tune by building from fragments that appear through a mesh to stately chords and embellishments, so that the well-known phrases appear and fade and appear again. Then, with the least fuss, the rhythm section of Aidan O'Donnell (bass) and Stephen Keogh (drums) has picked up the beat and Harrison is away with wonderful flowing phrases. The title track, First Light, by Harrison, brings back the resonance with Satie as he plays extended phrases with the slightest of backing from bass and drums that is elegant to the point of quiescence yet builds to a climax where he attacks the strings of the piano directly to further the mood of the ethereal. There are no fast, driving tracks here, but plenty of playing where Harrison and the trio show how effortlessly they can move from slow ballad to upbeat swing. O'Donnell and Keogh work admirably with Harrison's sparseness and he in turn gives them space to embellish the rhythm.
This is a subtle, enigmatic album that demonstrates to what extent Frank Harrison has lived up to the expectations of his teachers in Oxford, not so many years ago, as a truly gifted musician.
Chris Parker, vortexjazz, March 2006
Given the atmospheric Graham Murrell light-study photographs adorning its sleeve, and the understated delicacy of its music, First Light might almost be mistaken for an ECM release; the five Harrison compositions, too, gently insistent, utilising the slowest of tempos to produce gracefully haunting piano-trio music, may remind some listeners of Paul Motian's rubato pieces for that label. This said, however, the album is clearly a highly personal project, its non-original material (Don Sebesky's luxuriously stately 'You Can't Go Home Again', Cole Porter's perennially intriguing standard 'What is This Thing Called Love', Alex North's tender 'Love Theme from Spartacus' and Eden Ahbez's 'Nature Boy', performed solo) intelligently selected to showcase not only Harrison's luminous yet muscular approach, but also the interactive spontaneity of a surefooted rhythm section: bassist Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh. Poise, elegance and dynamic control are the trio's watchwords, but there is power in evidence as well, Keogh's drumming in particular crackling with tastefully suppressed energy; overall, though, this is very much Harrison's album, pleasingly homogeneous in mood and approach, and demonstrating just why he is regarded as a rising star in the jazz world.
Alan Joyce, Nottingham Evening Post, February 2006
On past visits, pianist Frank Harrison could usually be found in the ranks of Gilad Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble, but here he was with his own trio, accompanied by bassist Aidan O'Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh.
Their delicate approach was apparent from the start; they excelled in fragile, tender ballads, mostly originals with the occasional standard. Harrison's style highlighted his melodic perceptiveness which was not only intense but distinctly personal and rested confidently on a remarkable technique. Sometimes he would be more adventerous, as on evergreens Taking A Chance On Love and How Deep Is The Ocean; the faster tempos suited his unhurried, precise improvisations. Aidan O'Donnell seized attention by his vital role in the improvised group textures and his impressive solo work. He too displayed exquisite sensibility and remarkable technique.
Skilled percussionist Keogh followed it all with shimmering top cymbals, chattering snare and whispering brushes and seized on the up-tempo standards to provide a prodigious swing.