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Multiplicity of Musical Idioms: Guitarist Joel Harrison & Sarode Master Anupam Shobhakar Release "Leave The Door Open"

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Joel Harrison
With Leave The Door Open (Whirlwind Recordings), guitarist Joel Harrison teams up with sarode player Anupam Shobhakar and the product is a wholly idiosyncratic synthesis of Indian and American musics and more particularly, the lives and interests of these two musicians.

Harrison and Shobhakar met as a result of a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship when Harrison set out to compose a piece for classical percussion, jazz quintet, and sarode. Harrison says that he and Shobhakar “spent a lot of time together figuring out how our different backgrounds could blend and cohere. ‘He taught me and I taught him. He’s an incredibly virtuosic, well-educated performer.’ I had had a lifelong interest in sarode, but working with Anupam allowed me to grow exponentially in my understanding of his tradition.”

Rather than have Shobhakar act as a “special guest” in the context of a chamber ensemble of Harrison’s regular peers, the guitarist says that Shobhakar embraced the challenge to step outside the bounds of traditional Indian music – to collaborate wholeheartedly in the spirit of a multiplicity of approaches.

Says Shobhakar, “Working on this project allowed me to learn in much deeper ways what jazz music is, and how it connects to who I am. I am truly thrilled to have learned so much about how to work with a jazz rhythm section. Indian improvisation and jazz improvisation are very different in a lot of ways, and developing a rapport with Joel and his peers was at the heart of this project."

This notion of collaboration is what one hears first upon listening to Leave The Door Open. The album's first half is comprised of long form pieces, two from each composer. “We wanted to dig deep into our compositional backgrounds and write music that takes the listener on a journey," Harrison says. “We both added to each other's shapes and ideas. However, we didn’t just want to write from an esoteric, intellectual place. We really wanted to make something emotionally engaging. We both felt that folk music was a way to do that. We wanted the CD to have heart and soul.”

On Willie Dixon’s blues, “Spoonful” and their jointly composed “Devil Mountain Blues”, the admiration and mutual musical respect between the two is distinctly heard and felt. At times, Harrison’s American steel guitar, masterfully played with a slide, conjures the textures of Shobhakar’s sarode, and Shobhakar’s sarode often takes on an unmistakably American vibe. The record is further deepened by two magnificent vocal performances by singers that Shobhakar brought in from Bombay on the Bengali folk song “Kemne Avul" and the epic “Multiplicity."

Of the musicians in the band, Harrison says that drummer Dan Weiss was an obvious choice given his fantastic ability to synthesize Indian music with more conventional trap-set technique, stemming from his extensive study in tabla. Bassist Hans Glawischnig has, says Harrison, “an incredible sense of time and an ability to navigate complex music and make it sound simple.” With their desire to have the Hammond B3 Organ, accordion and piano, the clear choice was Gary Versace, who Harrison describes as “a player who has this great ability to navigate different types of music, from simple to complex, which not too many guys can do.” Harrison says of his longtime collaborator, alto saxophonist Dave Binney, “He is one of the greatest saxophone players alive.”

The common thread among these musicians is their extensive musical relationships – not only with Harrison – but also with each other. Given that, Harrison says Leave The Door Open, “was like turning to the home-team”. He goes on to stress that, “I’m making my own record here, it’s not like I was saying ‘It’s time for me to make an Indian record and I’m going to get a bunch of people together to do that.’ It’s another link or chapter in my output, with its attention turned in a certain direction.”

Regarding the name Multiplicity, Harrison says: “We used that word because it represents our multiplicity of approaches. Our collaboration is unique because of the many diverse cross currents involved. Hopefully, this richness of background and materials evolves into a unity of purpose." That unity is certainly present throughout Leave The Door Open.

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