by Ian Mann
February 22, 2010
Ian Mann enjoys a recent performance by local boy Remi Harris and his trio and takes a look at their recent album "Live at The Hatch."
Guitarist Remi Harris is one of Herefordshire’s brightest young musical talents. Harris has been playing the guitar since the age of seven and now at twenty one he is already a formidable technician. For a number of years Harris played lead guitar with the rock band Mars Bonfire a popular attraction on the local live circuit and a group seemingly with the potential to move on to bigger things. They had already supported some of the major acts in the rock/metal genre at Midland venues such as The Robin 2 Club in Bilston.
Besides his rock persona Harris has developed a career as a jazz guitarist with a particular interest in the music of Django Reinhardt. Since Mars Bonfire decided to call it a day in autumn 2009 Harris has pursued this direction full time and recorded this album last November. The disc was recorded live in front of an audience at The Hatch studio in Great Witley, Worcestershire. Studio owner Ben Salmon is also the trio’s rhythm guitarist and the trio is completed by double bassist Del Strother.
I saw this line up give a most enjoyable performance at The Duke’s Arms in Presteigne on the evening of 17th February 2010. The border town is a hotbed of live music and has hosted an impressive range of jazz, folk and roots/world music acts. Much of this is down to the tireless Pete Mustill who runs the local listings magazine Broad Sheep, the bible for music fans in this part of the world. Pete also plays guitar and sings in local bands such as Little Rumba, helps to organise the town’s annual Sheep Music festival and promotes regular gigs at The Dukes.
The Dukes gigs are accessible for a small entrance charge, usually three or four quid and always less than a fiver. They are invariably packed and offer the opportunity to see top class musicians in a relaxed and informal environment. The small fee encourages listeners and there is a lot less background chatter than at most other local pub gigs. The week before we were entertained by Chris Jagger (yes, brother of Mick) and Pete has also attracted the likes of Michael Chapman and Salsa Celtica to the pub, the latter the subject of a review on this site. Fans know they’ll always get something interesting from Pete even if they’ve not heard the artist before. As a musician himself Pete has good contacts and he never picks duffers, you know you’re going get something worthwhile for your money.
Young Mr Harris and his colleagues went down a storm with the Presteigne crowd. The venue wasn’t quite as rammed as it had been for Jagger but the enthusiasm of the audience was infectious and inspired Harris into some bravura playing. His fingers were all over the fretboard in a dazzling display of technique. It wasn’t just us punters who were impressed, the audience was like a guitarists convention with not only Mustill in the crowd but also local hero Martin Blake plus Presteigne’s own Benji Kirkpatrick (of Bellowhead, Oysterband and Seth Lakeman fame) who also dropped in for a listen.
The trio is very much Harris’ band, he’s the dominant instrumentalist and chief soloist. The pumping bass of Strother gets the occasional moment in the limelight but Salmon plays the Dave Kelbie role to perfection, strictly rhythm, no solos. The trio are already commendably tight and they blazed their way through several items associated with the great Django Reinhardt often at breakneck pace. Harris’ virtuosity is stunning but if I were to have a criticism of the trio’s performance at Presteigne it was that it was all rather one paced i.e.fast. The occasional slower numbers notably “Dark Eyes” and particularly Reinhardt’s famous “Nuages” were like a breath of fresh air. The room fell silent as the notes of “Nuages” hung in the air. It was the only time that Harris left any real space between the notes and this tune was all the better for it. At the moment, especially when spurred on by an enthusiastic crowd, Harris just loves demonstrating his considerable chops. However he’s young yet and I’m sure that increasing maturity will lead him to develop a greater sense of light and shade and a wider dynamic range in his playing.
The group’s self released CD features ten pieces played in the Django “gypsy jazz” style, many of which featured at Presteigne. The sound quality is good and with Harris taking the lead the trio canter through “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Minor Swing”.They then romp their way through “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Overall it’s a little more considered and less frenetic than the Presteigne show and Strother is allowed some solo space on the opener.
The jazz standard “All Of Me” begins quietly before suddenly gathering pace. Accelerating the tune like this is atypical Reinhardt trick and the young trio have learnt well from the master. The following “Bossa Dorado” adds a Latin tinge to the trio’s repertoire and Harris throws in a few humorous quotes, something that he and his sometime jazz guitar duo partner Trevor Davies are both fond of.
A relaxed “Swing 42” is followed by “Misty” the album’s only ballad. Like the performance of “Nuages” at Presteigne it’s beautifully played and represents a welcome variation in style and mood.
The old bebop standard “Oleo” represents the influence of bop masters like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane but is still delivered in the trio’s Django inspired house style.
Hoagy Carmichael’s “Honeysuckle Rose” exhibits a relaxed jauntiness and the album closes with the atmospheric “Dark Eyes”. Here the trio begin gently before subtly increasing the pace and moving on to finish at a gallop. In many ways it’s the outstanding piece of a highly promising début album that includes some great playing particularly from Harris himself.
There are moments when an additional solo voice such as a violin or clarinet would add variety and help to spread the load but finding someone local with the talent to match Harris’ ability is likely to be no easy task. There are some talented fiddlers around but most of these seem to be drawn more towards folk and roots music.
Remi Harris is a huge talent and time is still on his side to make an impact on the national music scene, whichever musical direction he decides to pursue. A player of his skill and versatility certainly shouldn’t go short of work. As a performer he maybe needs to project himself a little more, his between tunes announcements are not much more than mumblings, but his guitar playing speaks for itself.
Still a local boy making good music Remi Harris is surely destined for a bigger stage.
Copies of “Live At The Hatch” are available at the trio’s gigs for a price of £5.00.
Otherwise visit http://www.myspace.com/theremiharristrio or www.thehatchstudio.co.uk