Review and photographs by J Hunter
I shouldn’t have been surprised at the half-house that greeted uber-drummer Eric Harland as he led his band Voyager out onto the vast stage at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center. Just in terms of jazz alone, it was a busy Friday night; George Garzone was headlining the second show in the at A Place For Jazz series, while the Chronicles were throwing a fifth anniversary party at the Albany Barn. But I was surprised, if not a little outraged – but then I decided to take the selfish viewpoint: “More mind-bending music for me!”
When I say “mind-bending,” I’m not just plumbing my thesaurus for something sensational-sounding. Whether it’s with SFJAZZ Collective or James Farm, Harland’s compositions have always had an element of the spiritual to them, but Voyager bumps that zeitgeist up a few levels. “We like to start with our mantra,” Harland intoned, grinning, playing his kit with one drumstick as the band eased into “Relax,” the opening number from the band’s second release Vipassana (pronounced “Vih-PAH-sin-nuh”). Other bands may claim their music can take you to another place, but as Harland told us before introducing his partners, once Voyager kicks into gear, “we actually voyage!” And when the group transitioned from “Relax” into the big waltzing pulse of “Raghavan,” that’s when our voyage really began.