Bassist Mike Harmon with his frequent bandmates guitarist Greg Tuohey, pianist Dan Pierson and drummer Matt Carroll create an entrancing experience of this moment's jazz – freshly innovative but grounded in tradition, reflective and exploratory yet transparent and soothing – throughout One Song, their third album. Having already recorded Greg's music (under his own name in 2013, as First,) and Dan's (Quartet, of 2016 by Pierson Quartet), the four players here address Mike's compositions with impressive empathy, arriving at a group sensibility and sound that expands as its threads wend from start to finish.
The mood seems dark as "They Wrote It Down" begins, but over the track's unhurried course sunlight glints from Tuohey's arcing guitar phrases and looping background figure, Carroll's cymbal splashes, Pierson's piano statement drifting through the misty mix, and our leader-bassist's deceptively modest, absolutely solid bottom line. Mike Harmon's concept, from the evidence of his playing and original works here, is to let simplicity serve as structural strength and source of lyricism. That's an excellent idea, which he taps to fine affect in every performance.
"One Song," Harmon's hymn-like title track, is inspired by bassist Charlie Haden's sublime ballad "First Song" in that both present motifs so elemental we'd think they've always been in the air. On "Avreeayl's Bliss," named in honor of irrepressible Chicago/AACM drummer Avreeayl Ra and abstracted from the results of an early improvised trio gig, Mike and Matt groove to prod, lift, chase and tag Greg and Dan, until they're all together performing collective improvisation as from jazz's New Orleans origins distilled over successive sophisticated generations. An open, rhythmically implicit episode impels pianist Pierson to spontaneously compose a counter-movement, which returns the ensemble to the tonal theme ringing from Tuohey's strings.
"Blatts" is chameleon-like, its true colors shifting elusively even through repeated listenings (and that's a good thing). Another of Tuohey's loops – like the one on "They Wrote It Down" processed and controlled by Pierson, underlie his pearly, precise notes. Harmon and Carroll plant a slow, steady beat out of which the guitar eventually bursts, aggressive and distorted, electronics sweeping under it so the background mounts greater scope and power through a subtle climax and decisive recapitulation to ringing resolution.
Such ensemble efforts require interactive sensitivity from all participants, and Harmon, Tuohey, Pierson and Carroll prove more than equal to the challenge. This quartet spins spells that keep us in suspense and thrall from what appear to be mere hints of composed material. Credit Mike Harmon for bringing a binding ingredient to that magic. He guides it all, quietly but firmly, as if in possession of a momentous, enlightening secret: All music, in the final reckoning, is One Song.
-Howard Mandel President of Jazz Journalist Association
released May 3, 2019
Greg Tuohey - guitar
Dan Pierson - piano and electronics
Matt Carroll - drums
Bass and Compositions by Mike Harmon (BMI)
Recorded by Dan Pierson at his Studio December 3rd and 4th, 2017 in Chicago
Mixed by Dan Pierson and Mike Harmon in Chicago
Mastered by Carl Saff
Artwork and Layout by Marine Tempels