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Published: 2002/06/28
by Pat Buzby

Grateful – James Harvey

Grateful is an appropriate title for this instrumental disc, and one might
add "settled" and "modest" to the list of adjectives. Somewhat like Trey
and company in recent years, James Harvey comes off here as a musician and
composer past the point of having something to prove, so much so that it
verges on being unnerving for those of us who want thrills and spills out of
The Phish reference is relevant because Harvey, a Burlington-based
trombonist/keyboardist, has a place in their extended family of musicians,
and he draws on that talent pool here. Dave Grippo, Peter Apfelbaum and
Stacy Starkweather comprise the core group on several cuts along with
drummer Jeff Salisbury, and Mr. Anastasio himself contributes a solo to
"House Of Gold" (which both opens and closes the disc, with sax solos
omitted on the "radio edit" which appears first). Trey’s contribution is
typical of the disc: it is a calm, polite statement, firmly rooted in the
melody and suggesting a slightly edgier-toned Pat Metheny or George Benson.
This is interesting in itself, but perhaps more so if you’re aware of the
atonal skronk that Anastasio turned out on a regular basis up through 1995,
and though Harvey’s background is less likely to be familiar to the average reader, the same is probably true with him.
It’s Harvey’s compositions that define the setting, alternating between
gentle jazz/funk and candelit-waltz piano ballads. Though not forceful, the
tunes can grow on you (especially the "All Blues"-esque 6/8 number
"Mirage"), or impress you with their good cheer (as the infectious
gospel-tinged "For The Losers" does). Harvey stays within a comfortable
tonal zone with these pieces, and his players follow suit. Apfelbaum comes
closest to breaking out of the mold on "Mirage" with some Mike
Brecker-styled overblowing, but otherwise his and Grippo’s solos remain true
to the mood Harvey seeks to evoke.
On several cuts, Harvey solos on trombone over his own keyboard
accompaniment, and one wonders if this disc might have been different had he
opted away from overdubbing. However, the lack of aggressive interaction is
consistent with everything else in this presentation. Ultimately, Harvey
doesn’t claim a position in the race of musicians seeking to take over the
world, but the optimism and maturity of this music make Grateful
worth pulling off the shelf.

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