First Light or, Rebirth of the Cool?
Released in 2006 on the Basho label, The Frank Harrison Trio's First Light is Harrison's debut album as a leader, and most welcome and eagerly awaited too. Frank Harrison, most familiar from his association with Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble since its inception in 2000, is undoubtedly one of the most prodigiously gifted young jazz pianists ever. I have yet to hear a pianist of even broadly his generation who comes close to Harrison.
The first question that arises is, is this a debut album worthy of Harrison's unquestionable, immense talents? This is easily answered with a most resounding "Yes!" First Light is as fine a debut album as could be wished for.
Harrison's partners-in-crime in The Frank Harrison Trio are superb and acclaimed Scots bassist Aidan O'Donnell and equally superb and acclaimed Irish drummer Stephen Keogh. Together, they are a dream of a piano trio. Harrison is always the kind of pianist you can never hear enough of, and here, with his own trio, there's certainly plenty of him. Although even then, you will still want to hear more, of course.
First Light presents a finely balanced, well chosen mix of standards, one movie soundtrack theme and Harrison originals. The latter reveal Harrison as as sensitive and formidable a composer as he is a performer. They are absolutely delightful and strong compositions.
Upon first listening to First Light, especially the first two tracks, the Don Sebesky penned You Can't Go Home Again and Cole Porter's immortal What Is This Thing Called Love?, one gets an almost overwhelming impression that this could be almost straight out of Miles Davis' Birth Of The Cool and Gil Evans era as well as tinged with his Ahmad Jamal influences, such is the elegance of the playing. Fairly strong Bill Evans influences are also discernible. Particularly on You Can't Go Home Again one almost expects Miles' muted trumpet to come in any time. Harrison's original compositions fit the style and mood to seamless perfection. And although the aforementioned influences are clearly and undeniably there and one could be tempted to describe this as Harrison's new kind of blue-tinged cool, broadly set in Brad Mehldau territory, the style of First Light is very much Harrison's unquestionably own individual one. The sheer beauty and elegance of this album are almost painful.
Harrison's improvs on First Light are sometimes elegantly and lyrically melodic, often spacious, and sometimes leaning heavily towards hard bop as well as bebop. Always inventive and imaginative as ever, they are also supremely confident and extraordinarily mature. Harrison also affords his trio mates O'Donnell and Keogh space for some extremely fine solos. At other times, they support him with great subtlety, sensitivity and elegance.
The resultant whole is more than just delicious - it is original, delicate, supremely expressive, witty, and cerebral. And despite the occasional fireworks, Harrison is never tempted into frenetic, youthful overly exuberant displays. Frank Harrison somehow manages to imbue his silences with as much expression and meaning as his notes, more so than almost any other player. As always, one never wants Harrison to stop. I certainly could happily spend days on end listening to Harrison's dazzling ivories ever since first hearing him back on the first Orient House Ensemble album where he was already stunning, especially for someone of his then very young years. One just knew one was hearing a very special piano talent. And Harrison is still young now and one can only wonder what marvels and glories are yet to come from his ivories.
The Frank Harrison Trio's First Light is, quite simply, an album to die for. For a debut leader album, it is more than brilliant - it is almost unbelievable. First Light will sit right alongside my favourite OP, Monk and Tatum albums in my piano collection. Harrison really is that - almost frighteningly - brilliant.
An album as exciting as and of the calibre of The Frank Harrison Trio's First Light has to be way beyond essential in any jazz or jazz piano collection. I'd consider it equally indispensable in any general good music or any kind of piano music collection. Frank Harrison unplugged - go for it, before you die!
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