Album review – Chemical Reactions by Gavin Harrison and Antoine Fafard

*****

Gavin Harrison and Antoine Fafard prove that fusing jazz, rock and classical music does work

Graphic design by Antoine Fafard

In music, the words ‘fusion’ or ‘crossover’ used to a warning for any sensible music lover to run for the hills. Very fast. Musical genres such as classical, rock, pop and jazz have worked independently of each other, very successfully, for decades if not centuries, but attempting to splice their DNA together has sometimes resulted in disturbing mutations. It is therefore a pleasure to report that fusing the muscular but subtle and intelligent drumming of Gavin Harrison, and the jazz bass playing of Antoine Fafard, with a string quartet and even an orchestra, actually works.

It helps that Gavin is probably one of the best drummers in the world at present, having performed as a session musician but also as a member of Porcupine Tree and more recently King Crimson, also releasing a stunning solo album of big band arrangements Cheating the Polygraph a few years ago. To appreciate the quality of his drumming, listen to the opening of the second track on this new album, Atonic Water which begins with half-speed, laconic, almost lazy drumming which is joined by fast, buzzing strings, creating the illusion of two time frames running in parallel. Gavin has written about rhythmic illusions in the past and here he puts his theory into thrilling practice.

Antoine shows what a fine jazz bass player he is in the opening track Transmutation Circle, making fast runs high up the fretboard when he is soloing, sounding almost like a jazz guitarist at times, but also providing a solid underpinning when the music demands that he sounds more like a conventional rock player.

The first five tracks of the album, which also include Vision of a Lost Orbit, Pair of a Perfect Four and Proto Mundi feature a string quartet, made up of Maria Grig who overdubbed all the violin and viola parts and Jonathan Gerstner on cello. They bring great precision and intensity to these opening tracks. Gavin also plays marimba, helping to create a mellower vibe to balance the intensity.

The sixth track Singular Quartz adds Jerry Goodman on electric and acoustic violins, sometimes recalling the virtuosic performances of Eddie Jobson, who played violin for Frank Zappa and Roxy Music among many others.

In the last two tracks on the album Holding Back the Clock and Chemical Reactions the landscape suddenly up opens much wider, a lovely way to end an album that began with the intimate intensity of the string quartet and gradually opened out as more instruments are added. Both tracks feature the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Anthony Armore, recorded in Ostrava in the Czech Republic as long ago as March 2016. They have a cinematic sweep that makes a superb climax to the album. In the documentary about the making of the album, Antoine says that he wanted real players rather than samples because of the subtleties that can bring. Gavin says he had worked with sampled instruments before but enjoyed working with ‘the living breathing organic unity’ that a real orchestra can provide. You can almost sense the joy in the playing of both musicians, particularly Antoine’s inspired bass soloing in the title track Chemical Reactions, and Gavin’s passionately animated drumming around four minutes in. The track rounds off a highly satisfying album that repays repeated listening to reveal all its subtle pleasures; listen on decent speakers or headphones if you can to enjoy its riches in full.

Track list

1 Transmutation Circle

2 Atonic Water

3 Vision of a Lost Orbit

4 Pair of a Perfect Four

5 Proto Mundi

6 Singular Quartz

7 Holding Back the Clock

8 Chemical Reactions

Musicians

Gavin Harrison drums and marimba (tracks 1 – 5) drums (tracks 6 – 8)

Antoine Fafard bass (all tracks)

Maria Grig violins and viola (tracks 1 – 5)

Jonathan Gerstner cello (tracks 1 – 5)

Jerry Goodman acoustic and electric violin (track 6)

Avigail Arad Cello (track 6)

Reinaldo Ocando marimba and vibraphone (track 6)

Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Anthony Armore (tracks 7 – 8)

Chemical Reactions is released on 11 December on the Harmonic Heresy label.

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