In an era where copious digital postproduction is the status quo, it’s the rare record that makes live interaction among plain Jane acoustic instruments sound stunning. Jesse Harris, already Grammy-fied for his impressionistic songwriting, deserves equal recognition for his subtly intelligent, laissez-faire studio magic as well.
Although the singers Harris has written his most well-known songs for—Norah Jones, Lizz Wright, Madeleine Peyroux—get filed under soft jazz, Harris’s connection to the genre couldn’t be more tenuous. He’s a folksy singer-songwriter through and through, more informed by Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell than Rodgers and Hart. And as he showed on last year’s excellent Mineral (Secret Sun), his songs are like handheld DV films in a world of megabudget 35mm: You can never anticipate where the movie leads you, but you can take in the beauty of an extemporaneous shot.
Harris’s band of organ, drums, bass, violin, as well as his own lighter-than-air tenor and guitar lines, enhances the modest spirit of the songs. The strongest connection to jazz for Harris, with the help of engineer Tom Schick, may come in his evocation of Rudy Van Gelder’s work for ’60s Blue Note, with reverberant, rustling snare drums, blubber bass lines and honeyed Hammond organ. And the performances of New York–based Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco (Forro in the Dark) are critical. Playing vibes, bongos and various minutiae, Refosco provides a whirring, barely perceptible motor to the record. The best always make it sound easy, but easy rarely sounds this good.—Matthew Lurie