Cheating the Polygraph by Gavin Harrison (KScope Records)
Drummer for the now dormant progressive rock band Porcupine Tree, Gavin Harrison presents Cheating the Polygraph. Five years in the making, Harrison, along with arranger and bassist Laurence Cotle (Alan Parsons Project, Bill Buford’s Earthworks) use Porcupine Tree songs as a reference point for an album of Jazz, Big Band and Avante Garde instrumentals that showcase Harrison’s drumming, compositional genius and humour at least as much as his love for the source material. His father was a jazz trumpeter and drummer so it only seems natural Gavin would gravitate to the music that seeped into his genes from a young age.
In the past 5-10 years members of Porcupine Tree have kept busy releasing genre-defyingly great music, as Steven Wilson has released several solo albums and produced re-releases for the likes of Yes, Jethro Tull, Tears For Fears and King Crimson in 5.1 and on Blu-Ray. Bassist Edwin Colin joined with American guitarist Jon Durant for two albums as the strange and lovely Burnt Belief and former Japan and longtime keyboardist Richard Barbieri has worked with Marillion singer Steve Hogarth and released two experimental and wonderful albums. Drummer Gavin Harrison now branches out, way out with his take on Porcupine Tree numbers.
Harrison recorded all of the 18 musicians on the album at separate times, having them play many different parts and then placing them in the mix on the songs. He recorded the album in 5.1 Surround Sound as well, making me wish I had the money to create a sound system suitable to hear these mixes in all their spacious glory, with various instruments mixed to the six speakers.
Along with Harrison and Cotle’s rhythm section, the main voices are the brassy horns, and as these instruments replace both vocals and lead guitar, they’re also the parts most ingeniously written. What Happens Now? introduces the listener with a wind-up of chattering horns, drums come dancing in, all kinds of horns enter with their lines, creating a round-robin of riffs while a funky bass struts around in the background. Sound of Muzak/So Called Friend is up next, with a cool vibe, a bouncy bass and sass to spare. This the soundtrack to a montage of bar-hopping and cocktails, neon lights and spinner your partner through smoke-tinged night life. Heart Attack In A Layby/ Creator Had A Mastertape opens with an epic drum roll and horn stabs, the curtain rises and marimbas and fluttering flutes breath a magic spell behind the horns, as they play riffs on the central melody. Throughout the movements we hear mystery, romance and contemplation as various instrumental characters are introduced and woven into the narrative. On The Pills I’m Taking things get rocking in the drums and bass, quickly switching to a looser, more swinging feel with drum rolls and tight harmonized horns rollicking around the front, back and center, an intoxicating cacophony. Hatesong/Halo features a soothing marimba at the beginning, bass guitar slinks in, joined by almost straight rock drums. A trumpet comes croaking, flutes sound like synth sequences, trumpet and clarinet chatter and swell up. The song then becomes a jazz fusion number grooving along on nimble bass and spry drums, those horns taking on voices unheard of as well as playings some whimsical recurring motifs. It all comes to a pleasant conclusion with a denouement of the main melody line with busy bass horns played along with the marimba and xylophone.
Cheating the Polygraph closes with Futile, originally released on an EP on the In Absentia tour and taken from those sessions. Originally a straight-up hard rocking song with a prominent heavy metal guitar lead, in Harrison’s hands the drums swing, the bass pops and the horns ascend and descend on the jazzy rhythm section, the light and airy parts punctuated by harder drum hits and horn stabs. As the many rhythmic parts join the party and then make their exit, the remaining revelers jam it up, the drums and horns winding up, up, up then the tension is released by a joyous return to the central melodic riff, the horns rise up and out.
Ears ringing, feet tapping, you wonder at all that you just heard, and smile in the knowledge that on Cheating the Polygraph you’ve just experienced something both familiar and fresh, performed by Gavin Harrison and friends with playfulness and passion.
(by Bret Miller)