Remi Harris Trio, 13th January 2017

In his brief introduction to the evening’s music, Remi Harris explained that ‘gypsy jazz’ was American jazz with a French accent. But if Django Reinhardt created an enduring musical hybrid, succeeding generations have incorporated it into their own listening and playing; and because the guitar is now truly a global instrument, it has hybridized again, many times over. In the right hands, what was once accented is now something more like multi-lingual. Enter the Remi Harris Trio.

Within minutes of the first number, it was plain that Remi Harris can play the guitar…well, as the old song expressed it, ‘like ringin’ a bell.’ But there was so much more to his musicianship than guitar pyrotechnics: the entire concert was a thrilling display of musicianship across a surprising variety of styles—deeply expressive, swinging and just plain fun. In the interval between sets, hardly anyone spoke except in superlatives; and still there was more to come.

In addition to his specialist acoustic instrument, Remi brought along three electric instruments, each used to demonstrate another facet of the way in which swing, jazz and blues and rock inspire, draw on and combine with one another. Yet what was fascinating about this mini-history is that the common denominator was still that familiar ‘gypsy jazz’ idiom—in no small measure because of the superb rhythm support of Caley Groves (rhythm guitar) and Mike Green on bass. In this kind of trio, the lead guitar is so far forward and the tempos generally so upbeat that the contribution of the rhythm players can easily be taken for granted. Not so with this band: they were central to the marvellously infectious qualities of the music and its many demands. As Remi pointed out, the second guitar provides beat as well as rhythm; and Mike Green’s solo passages demonstrated his own deep engagement with the music.

In musicianship at this level, there are thrills aplenty, but rarely if ever anything to make an audience laugh. But in the midst of his stunning displays, Remi had a particularly good line in musical quotation—everything from Cream and Jimi Hendrix to ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mister Hitler?’ The first set finished with a powerful Freddie Green blues, played on electric guitar, which served to confirm what had been clear from the outset: Remi Harris has boundless lyrical as well as technical prowess.

In between further excursions into the gypsy idiom—including a stunning version of ‘Round Midnight’ wholly in keeping with that tradition, yet somehow also unmistakably Thelonius Monk—we also had workouts on two other electric guitars, including what was nothing less than a tribute to Wes Montgomery, the style, phrasing and tone spot-on.

It is one of the many delights of live jazz to see performers so deeply imbued with the music, so comprehensively skilful, improvising at the very edge of the music to bring out the beauty and expressive potential of the songs. There wasn’t a single number all evening that didn’t display something special—embellishments, advanced technique, surprising and effectively deployed dissonances, and runs of astonishing speed, precision and power. There was only one cliché—the number of times people muttered, ‘Amazing…’

Remi Harris – lead guitar
Caley Groves – rhythm guitar
Mike Green – bass

© Jim Whitman, 14th January 2017

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