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"Treachery", "233 Butler", "October 25th", and "Nemesis": A Look at Eric Harland

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Eric Harland is one of the more prolific drummers on the jazz scene today, and his presence on a recording or in a band is (in my listening experience) a guarantee of some great playing, both from the drummer and from the rest of his bandmates. Harland’s drumming has shown up in lots of different settings, mostly as a sideman for some wide-ranging leaders including Dave Holland, Aaron Goldberg, The 3 Cohens, Aaron Parks, Charles Lloyd, Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ravi Coltrane, Jacky Terrasson, and the SFJAZZ Collective, and he also leads his own Voyager band, with Taylor Eigsti on piano, Julian Lage on guitar, Walter Smith III on sax, and Harish Raghavan on bass (more on them below…). Similar to an earlier column I wrote here, I’ll look at a few recent tunes that have featured Eric Harland on the studio and/or live versions. Along with changing the drummer in these tunes, the other personnel changes have led to big differences in the overall feel and structure of these tunes over the span of just a few years.

I’ll start with an Eric Harland original, “Treachery”. This tune first showed up, as far as I can tell, on the Monterey Quartet Live at 2007 Monterey Jazz Fest album. The quartet on that album featured Harland on drums along with Dave Holland on bass, Chris Potter on sax, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano. The first version of “Treachery” that I’ll look at for this column was played by the same lineup, except for the substitution of Jason Moran on keys instead of Rubalcaba. The Overtone Quartet, nominally led by Dave Holland, performed “Treachery” at the 2010 Bridgestone Jazz Festival in Sao Paulo. This version starts with an unaccompanied drum solo from Harland as Dave Holland walks in to pick up his bass and Chris Potter mills around for a bit. At about 0:25, Moran plays a few tentative piano notes, but the band doesn’t really join until around 0:50 when Holland and Moran join the groove that Harland has established. Potter joins at about 1:00, then plays through the head of the tune starting around 1:15 or so. Just before 2:00, Moran starts a piano solo following the head. He starts this with some fragmented takes on the tune’s melody and continues to build his solo based on that idea. This is a fairly free section, punctuated by Moran returning to play the fragmented “Treachery” theme as Harland and Holland build a near-chaotic background for Moran’s piano improvisation. Pretty wild, high-energy stuff by about 4:15 or so, just before Potter’s sax returns to play through the tune’s theme again. The band then moves into a sax solo starting shortly after 5:00 as Moran shifts to the Rhodes piano from the acoustic piano (the Rhodes is a little low in the audio mix, unfortunately). Holland’s bassline, built off of the tune’s melody, is locked in with Harland’s drums something lovely here. At about 7:20, Potter’s solo has built to a point where he is reaching for the upper register of his sax over this superb rhythm section… At about 8:40, Potter returns to the “Treachery” theme and they bring this version to a close.

“Treachery” is also the opening tune on the 2010 Voyager: Live by Night album, led by Eric Harland on the drums and featuring Walter Smith III on sax, Julian Lage on guitar, Taylor Eigsti on piano, and Harish Raghavan on bass. This version starts with Lage’s guitar stating the theme, joined by Eigsti’s piano and Harland’s rolling drums before Smith’s sax joins and the guitar and sax play the theme in unison. They are also joined at times by Eigsti’s piano. At about 0:50, they move into an open section with Smith’s sax and Lage’s guitar going back and forth, neither really taking the lead here. Great comping from Eigsti in here, as well - I love the chords he plays at about 1:45 or so and throughout this section, really holding this together. At about 2:20 or 2:30, Smith’s sax takes the lead as Lage’s guitar drops out. It’s an excellent sax solo, starting to play with the “Treachery” theme a bit around 3:00 or so before moving on to an original solo backed by Eigsti, Raghavan, and Harland with some contributions from Lage’s guitar. At about 4:55, the group returns to the main theme, led by Lage. They really power through this, with some high notes from Lage over the main theme. This leads to a section led by Eigsti over a great bassline from Raghavan and some cool, almost tribal-sounding drums from Eric Harland with a steady pulse from his hi-hat. At about 6:50, Eigsti hits on a repeated note and builds some nice chord foundations underneath that while Harland’s drums build in intensity. Just before 7:30, this organically returns to the “Treachery” theme before moving into “Intermezzo I” on the album. This group plays a more intense version of “Treachery” than the Overtone Quartet version above, in part because of the addition of Lage’s guitar. The slightly larger group, though, doesn’t explain the overall increase in intensity; they’ve got a great group dynamic that made for a huge change from the version above by the Overtone Quartet. Very much recommended, and another great, very highly recommended version of this tune was played by the same group in 2011 at 92Y Tribeca, as recorded by NPR, where “Treachery” opened the set.

Treachery by Eric Harland on Grooveshark

Speaking of Julian Lage, his trio featuring Jorge Roeder on bass and Tupac Mantilla performed “233 Butler” at the 2012 Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival (an expanded version of this group featuring Dan Blake on sax and Aristides Rivas on cello also performed “233 Butler” on Lage’s 2011 Gladwell album). This trio version starts out with Lage and Roeder, joined quickly by Mantilla’s hand percussion. At about 0:25, the song’s melody first appears. Just beautiful at about 0:40 as Lage lets a note ring out… Wild, sort of Monk-ish, ascending line around 1:10 or so… nice. There is a long composed section at the beginning of this tune, opening up to a guitar solo around 1:40. Lage takes a casually amazing solo based very much on the “233 Butler” melody. A really excellent section with the trio interacting perfectly with each other at about 3:00. By about 3:45 or so, the trio has not quite returned to the tune’s head, but is toying with it, and they play through a loose version of the tune’s theme here at the end of this version before bringing it to a close at about 5:00. I’ll also mention here that this trio did another excellent version of “233 Butler” for WBGO’s Checkout in 2011.

And back to Mr. Harland… The Julian Lage Quartet, with Lage, Harland, Dan Blake on sax, and Larry Grenadier on bass, did a version of “233 Butler” at the Berklee Performance Hall for a New Year’s Eve show on December 31, 2011 (this was actually billed as the Julian Lage trio, featuring Dan Blake, but I ran the numbers and it’s actually a quartet). The show was recorded by NPR and is available to stream. They opened their set with “233 Butler” (this starts at about 2:50 in the streaming audio). This version of the tune starts with Lage’s guitar chords over Larry Grenadier’s four-note bassline before Harland and Blake join in. At about 0:35, Lage plays the tune’s melody on guitar… ah, that part at 0:50 kills me every time… Blake plays the melody on sax at about 1:10 over the super-strong rhythm section… there’s that Monk-ish ascending line from Lage at about 1:25. Nice floating feel at about 1:45 or so, sustained in what seems to be a composed section, though it’s not entirely clear whether this is composed or improvised. By about 2:15, Lage is clearly taking a strong improvised solo. Lage’s playing is fantastic here, but I also love it when he drops out for just a moment here and there, how Harland and Grenadier drive this version. Lage hits on some nice controlled dissonance at about 3:15, then comes back to his virtuosic soloing. Harland does some half-time drums around 4:00, interacting nicely with Lage, and Blake tentatively rejoins at about 4:15. At 4:25, another composed section over hard-driving drums from Harland, then Blake takes a fantastic sax solo - Dan Blake is maybe not as well-known a name as Lage, Grenadier, or Harland, but he mixes it up with this group and more than holds his own with some great rhythmic and melodic ideas. Starting around 5:30, there is a spotlight for Harland’s drums over the four-note bassline from the opening as Lage adds just a few playful interjections here. Harland builds a drum solo like few others can, and this is no exception. Yikes, amazing stuff just before 7:00, and then Lage and Blake join back in for the tune’s ending. At about 7:30, Lage re-states the tune’s head, slightly looser than at the tune’s opening, and they then bring it to a close. Wow. No one else can do it like this, just incredible stuff. Here’s to hoping that we hear more from this amazing quartet.

Triveni is a trumpet trio led by Avishai Cohen. On the band’s Introducing Triveni album from 2010 (as well as on the Triveni II album from the same recording sessions), Cohen is joined by Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. The final tune on Introducing Triveni is “October 25th,” named for the date of its composition by Cohen. Cohen starts the tune by introducing the catchy melody over a driving, funky backdrop from the drums and bass. Waits’ drumming is particularly impressive, providing a backbeat without falling into cliche - he’s constantly shuffling the rhythm to keep this super-interesting. Cohen’s trumpet solo starts around 0:55 or so as Avital and Waits keep this tune churning along. Around 1:35, Cohen starts to play off of some high notes that accent his solo and that Avital and Waits bounce off of. Back to the head around 2:00 or so, played loosely. This leads to the second section of the tune, starting around 3:10 after a drum roll. This section is built off of a simple, driving bassline over which Cohen improvises a melodic line. This reminds me somehow of some of the experiments that Miles Davis was doing in the 1970s with simple bass figures and hard-driving drums (though it sounds very different, this section brings to mind On the Corner). Waits’ drumming here is fantastic, with a fairly open section for him around 4:30 and again at 5:10. Cohen returns to the riff that is the basis of the second section of this tune at about 5:45 while Waits’ drums continue to roll on furiously. This comes to a close at 6:20 or so and the studio audience provides some well-deserved applause. This is a studio album, but the trio plays these tunes loosely and freely so that it feels like a live concert. Great writing, great playing, and great interplay among the group members.

As live as the version of “October 25th” from Introducing Triveni feels, there’s nothing like an actual live concert. For that, we’ll turn to Triveni’s show at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival. On August 7, 2011, Avishai Cohen brought a different lineup, with Drew Gress on bass and Eric Harland on drums, to the festival. The final two tunes of their set also featured Cohen’s sister, Anat Cohen, on clarinet. NPR recorded the show, and the full set is available to stream or download. This live version of the tune (starting just after 54:00 in the audio stream) similarly starts with Avishai Cohen’s trumpet stating the melody over the drums and bass, but Harland’s drums contrast with Waits’ from the version above, with Harland working his hi-hat and what sounds like a tambourine here in the introduction. At about 1:00, they drop the tempo to nice effect for Cohen’s trumpet solo as Drew Gress’ bass and Eric Harland’s kick drum lay the backdrop here. Cool dissonant note from Cohen’s trumpet around 1:25, after which Anat Cohen tentatively joins in. She starts to stretch out a bit and make herself comfortable starting around 2:00-2:15, and then Avishai and Anat Cohen start to go back and forth using the chemistry that they’ve built up over the years (also on display on their work as two thirds of 3 Cohens). Avishai plays those high notes in his solo here at about 2:30, getting vocal approval from Anat after the first one. She then joins him and they play a great descending line at 2:45 or so. Avishai and Anat are playing two instruments here, but making one coherent statement, apparently telepathically, over Harland and Gress’ rhythm section. Gress’ bass is subtly awesome through this, with some minor alterations to the tune’s bassline that add to the overall appeal of this version. At 4:30, Avishai and Anat Cohen split the phrasing in the head between trumpet and clarinet, then this tune moves into the second section just before 5:00. This starts a little tentatively, but they cohere and by 5:40 or so, Gress and Harland are in absolute lock-step while Avishai and Anat trade phrases over this. Great drumroll from Harland behind Anat at about 6:35… some excellent bass-work from Gress at 7:45 or so… at 8:00, Avishai Cohen returns to the tune’s riff, leading Harland’s cymbals to start crashing behind this. Shortly after that, Avishai and Anat play the riff in unison; this comes to a close by 9:10 or so. This version isn’t better or worse than the album version, but very different. I’ll say the same thing that I said above - Great writing, great playing, and great interplay among the group members. Both versions of this tune are very highly recommended.

Aaron Parks’ Invisible Cinema, from 2008, featured Mike Moreno on guitar, Matt Penman on bass, and Eric Harland on drums (here, Harland is featured on the studio version, unlike his appearances on the live versions of “233 Butler” and “October 25th” above). Invisible Cinema’s "Nemesis" was one of the harder-grooving tunes from the overall excellent album. The tune starts with a single, repeated piano note that serves as an anchor for the tune before some backbeat drums from Harland join in, followed by the bassline. At around 0:25, the tune has coalesced into its sinister groove, and Moreno’s guitar starting around 0:50 continues very much in that sinister vein while Parks’ repeating piano note has continued… when that note shifts at about 1:20 it’s a nice surprise for the ear while Moreno’s guitar soloing continues. It’s a fairly minimal, atmospheric solo, as all four band members build an atmospheric feel (appropriate on an album called Invisible Cinema). Parks’ piano solo starts at about 2:10, and he’s accompanied by some subtle synth tones underneath this. A slightly busier solo than Moreno’s guitar solo, but still not trying for anything overly virtuosic here, really emphasizing the groove and atmosphere on this tune. The repeated piano note returns at 3:05 and Moreno’s guitar moves back to the front for some slightly busier soloing than his first solo. Harland’s drums are still mainly providing the backbeat here, but he adds some more fills behind Moreno’s guitar work as some glockenspiel from Parks bubbles up from underneath, panning from left to right in your headphones. This groove continues here over the repeated piano note as Moreno’s guitar plays the tune’s minimalist head. The tune ends with a surprising synth chord that apparently had been going underneath this the whole time.

Nemesis by Aaron Parks on Grooveshark

Parks also brought “Nemesis” to the March 9, 2012 show in Paris led by Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar. Rosenwinkel and Parks were joined for this version by Ben Street on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Parks starts this version out with a brief solo piano introduction based on the “Nemesis” melody over some dark chords. At about 0:30, the repeated piano note that anchors the tune first appears and the drums and bass join, hard, shortly after that. Rosenwinkel’s guitar joins at about 1:10 to play the tune’s melody, and the evil-sounding guitar tone that he uses is perfect for this tune. At about 2:00, Rosenwinkel starts a dark guitar solo over the repeating piano pulse and rock-solid foundation from Street and Poor. Rosenwinkel’s soloing on this live version is busier than Moreno’s guitar on the album version of the tune, and his style fits the tune fantastically. Nice drum rolls behind the guitar solo at about 4:15, which leads to some shredding from Rosenwinkel that continues… best rock band ever around 5:10 or so as they really dig in… The tune’s melody returns at about 5:45 or so, with Rosenwinkel improvising around the melody and bringing his guitar solo to a close. After this, Ted Poor throws in some big drum rolls, really pounding behind the piano pulse. The head returns at 7:00, still with those big drum rolls behind it. Just before 8:00, Parks starts to play some higher-register stuff on the piano that function similarly to the glockenspiel from the album version of “Nemesis.” Ted Poor’s kick drum at the end of this is really pounding, Jon Bonham-style. Powerful stuff, a very high-energy version of this already great tune from Invisible Cinema. Rosenwinkel’s guitar is absolutely great for this tune and reminds me (in a good way) of some of something that Trey Anastasio from Phish might play (think “David Bowie” or “Split Open and Melt”). Coupling that with the groove that Parks, Street, and Poor lay down is some real ear candy. It’s probably notable that after the solo introduction, Parks doesn’t take any kind of piano solo on this live version, working strictly as part of the rhythm section behind Rosenwinkel’s guitar. I’ll also recommend here the live version of this tune from the August 20, 2008 show at Small’s, with Rosenwinkel, Matt Penman on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums, with a great Arborescence-foreshadowing solo piano introduction from Aaron Parks.

Although Eric Harland is the common thread that ties these four tunes together, I don’t mean to suggest that his presence/absence is the only thing that drives the changes between the different versions of these tunes. That said, his distinctive drumming leaves its mark on all of the tunes that he’s involved in. Eric Harland aside, “Treachery,” “233 Butler,” “October 25th,” and “Nemesis” all stand up on their own as great tunes, and (on all of the versions above) as great playing and great examples of interaction among the musicians. Harland’s “Treachery,” in particular, seems to be a very flexible tune, changing greatly from version to version in the open middle section. The rhythm section changes and the addition of Dan Blake to Julian Lage’s “233 Butler” both made for a very different version of that tune. The two versions of Triveni’s “October 25th” above are very different from each other, seemingly resulting from relatively subtle changes in approach to the tune. While the drummer changed in the two versions of Aaron Parks’ “Nemesis” above, I would argue that the biggest shift between those two versions was the aggressive guitar playing from Kurt Rosenwinkel on the live version of the tune. Whatever or whoever the main catalyst was for the changes in the tunes above, there is some great playing in these tunes. Keep listening.

Ben Gray is a listener with a lot of ideas about this music around in his head.