JASON HARNELL — Total Harnage (review)

JASON HARNELL — Total Harnage album cover Album · 2019 · Jazz Related Improv/Composition Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Jason Harnell is a top notch jazz session drummer who has worked with big names such as Dave Douglas, Maynard Ferguson, Larry Goldings, Alan Pasqua and many more. “Total Harnage” is his first and only solo release and finds him playing selections from the drum solo show he performs at the Oyster House Saloon in Studio City Ca. Jason doesn’t just play the drums, but instead acts as a one man band by singing and utilizing electronics, loops, samples and apps to accompany his compositions. Essentially what we have here are oddly orchestrated drum solos, each with a totally different sound and approach. When I mention ‘drum solos”, don’t picture the thunder and flash of the Billy Cobham and Neil Peart crowd, instead, Jason is a subtle “thinking man’s” drummer and is more similar to masters of abstraction such as Eddie Blackwell, Paul Motian, Chico Hamilton and Max Roach. There is also a lot of Africa and India in Jason’s percussive excursions. Although there are many different tracks on here, they all seem to flow together, connected by Jason’s rambling rhythms.

It does not matter how much avant-garde music you have listened to, you have never heard anything like “Total Harnage”, not because it is particularly difficult or dissonant, in fact when Jason sings “When Your Smiling” to sparse drum accompaniment, it just sounds like an old radio broadcast, only a little off kilter when it ends with the sound of a Pac Man session closing down. Jason isn’t just off the beaten path on here, this album is it’s own path by itself. This LP should have special appeal to fellow drummers, in fact much of this reminds me of drummer comedian, Fred Armisen, who has entire comedy routines best appreciated by other drummers and pro musicians who have to deal with that one guy in the band ‘who really isn’t a musician’. Some highlights on here include Jason drumming along with Glenn Gould performing a Bach prelude, and another cut that has him adding percussion to Quint the Shark Hunter’s ‘bad fish’ speech from the movie “Jaws”. Harnell also performs George Crumb’s “The Magic Circle of Infinity”, as well as some ambient trance compositions of his own.

“Total Harnage” is a very non-cliché listen that has grown on me as I hear more, and many of these tracks would work great as change ups in a radio show or mix tape of unique music.
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