Wednesday 21 May 2014

Corey Harris Band

Band on the Wall, May 18, 2014 

The blues is like a hungry ghost, eager to find a voice to make it live again. Corey Harris, a remarkable blues revivalist, has carved his art from channeling the voices of ancestors, sometimes leapfrogging his Delta antecedents and directly communing with West African forebears, or side-tripping to living cousins in the Caribbean. It’s tempting to say that Corey Harris inhabits an imaginary Delta (thinking of Adam Fairhall’s historically aware explorations), which extends to an imaginary Savannah and an imaginary Caribbean, but there is nothing imaginary about Harris’ own voice, which is so fine, keen and vital that ghosts suddenly become a tangible reality.

From the rapturous response to a short solo set, it’s clear that the audience would happily settle for country blues atavism alone. This, however, wouldn’t satisfy Harris, who enjoys the camaraderie of a band and  thrives on the fullness of a versatile ensemble. The band provided a sophistication and richness that may seem at odds with rollin’ and tumblin’. In fact, Harris himself is an adventurous and accomplished player, executing dazzling double time runs on a little laptop slide guitar. His comrades looked more into the future than into the past: Chris Whitley on keys lavished unexpected harmonies on basic forms, drummer Paul Dudley subjected rhythm to a regular mix- up without sacrificing flow, and bassist Jayson Morgan ensured that the results were always funky. Best of all, Gordon Jones blew a clear and ringing saxophone, with that direct expressiveness common to Albert Ayler and Junior Walker, with the horn as an extension of the individual human voice.

It was more futuristic than retro to underpin ‘Maggie Walker’s Blues’ with a loping rhythm and grafting advanced harmonies that retained the trance-like reverie of the original country blues. Gutbucket raw to jazzy sophistication jostled in the same piece. 'Better Way' was propelled by a brisk rock steady beat, living up to the ensemble’s alternative name: the Blues Rasta Band. Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future, is what the Corey Harris Band are all about.

Real music played by real musicians to real audiences. How marvellous and how rare! The encore piece, a solo Edward Snowden-inspired song, ‘Watching You’ showed the influence of Bob Marley with its sunlit social consciousness. From such roots spring grow beautiful strong trees. Or, in Harris’ case, a whole exotic forest.

Pictures by Eva Navarro 

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