2014 is shaping up to be a big year for pianist Sam Harris: first off, he has already played on two of the year’s most critically-acclaimed new releases, Rudy Royston’s 303 (Greenleaf) and Ambrose Akinmusire’s the imagined savior is far easier to paint (Blue Note). Harris is more than just a sideman on these records; his harmonies give each one their distinctive color and feel, and he has been duly recognized for these contributions. In his review of 303, Nate Chinen of The New York Times singled out Harris as a “… strong voice in ascendence.” Meanwhile, while listening to Akinmusire’s new album, Steve Smith of the Times and Time Out New York tweeted this:
Mmm. Becca Stevens, Ambrose Akinmusire, Sam Harris and strings. Yes, yes, yes.
— Steve Smith (@nightafternight) March 6, 2014
Secondly, Harris has just released his debut album as a leader, Interludes (Fresh Sound). The style and personality that shines through on 303 and imagined savior comes out in full force here. All of the tracks on this album are Harris originals, and he demonstrates a sense of form that is unique among his peer group. Rather than constructing tunes that stretch into vehicles for instrumental solos, Harris creates concise and intimate vignettes: tone poems for a chamber ensemble of jazz instruments. He expands typical post-bop piano harmony into new territory, with curious dissonances and asymmetrical spacings—one part Herbie Hancock, one part Paul Bley. He plays with texture in interesting ways, using vintage keyboards like the mellotron and Fender Rhodes to create a near-symphonic palette. He builds up intricate rhythmic grids and breaks them down again with equal aplomb. Interludes is thus a perfect descriptor of Harris’s music: a connector between the mainstream and the avant-garde, between the formal and the fanciful.
As fans of The Jazz Gallery know, Harris has been honing this unique sound on the Gallery’s stage for several years now as both a leader and sideman. On Thursday, Harris will perform two sets as a belated celebration for the release of Interludes. While the album features contributions from saxophonists Roman Filiu and Ben van Gelder, Harris will present the music on Thursday with his trio featuring Martin Nevin on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums. Come out to hear Harris’s memorable and atmospheric themes stripped down to an elemental form.
Sam Harris performs in a trio with bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Craig Weinrib at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 20th. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($5 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.