This past week I interviewed the talented jazz guitarist Dave Harrington and saw him perform live with his group at Zebulon. His new album Pure Imagination, No Country was released February 1 on Yeggs Records - and it’s a masterpiece of cacophonous and harmonious jazz-driven psychedelia. I had the chance to speak with Dave at the KXSC studio the day before his show, and I’m grateful for it. He outlined a significant part of his philosophy on music, and even foreshadowed some of the elements that make his live performances so special.
To an untrained ear, Harrington’s music can sound chaotic - but he uses a cadre of different sounds and instruments to elicit otherworldly textures, both on the record and on stage. When discussing some of the main goals he had during the album’s development, Harrington spoke of his “ongoing interest in using the studio and techniques of processing and post-production” to cultivate sweeping universes of sound. But he’s not interested in playing a carbon copy of the album live: “playing the record [live] is about using the structures…giving a scaffolding that everything can build off of,” Harrington told me. True to his words, he was uninterested in exact reproducibility, often leading the band through minutes of improvisation, especially during the rendition of “Then I Woke Up.” Many of the songs featured extended breaks of solos or collaborative jamming, which enhanced the groove of the show.
His initial inspiration for the record came from his obsession with “Pure Imagination,” a song written for the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Harrington told me he had played the song “all the time” live, often “ending a gig with it and not telling the band.” Once he recorded a version he was satisfied with, the form of the album began to take shape. And again—the final moments of the live performance featured each band member exiting the stage, one by one, until Harrington was left alone to perform a melancholic rendition.
In the interview I asked him about some of the stylistic choices in his creative process — namely how he chooses which musicians to collaborate with throughout his extensive network of talent. Harrington’s goal for live performances is simply to play with the most interesting musicians and friends he knows; for example, at Zebulon, he brought Jon Natchez, a multi-instrumentalist who’s most recently appeared in The War on Drugs. “There’s no horns on the record,” Harrington told me, “but he’s gonna bring his bari sax and something will happen!”—which doesn’t quite do justice to how magical Jon’s horns made the atmosphere of the show feel.
Harrington is definitely a compelling frontman, as well. Often, he would lunge forward with his guitar when strumming a particularly impactful chord or melody, as if trying to force the transcendent notes towards the audience. He mixed that with gentle tapping to provide clarity to the mess of drums. A good portion of the crowd (including my friend Jasper) had their eyes closed to absorb the otherworldly melodies and tones, but the barrier between audience and performers wasn’t impenetrable—Harrington and the band came offstage during the break to interact with fans. That interest certainly translated to the stage, as Harrington seemed obsessed with fiddling with the pedals and synths to cultivate the exact sounds he was looking for—and the effects were stunning. The Dave Harrington Group performed one of the most engaging shows I’ve seen in a long while, and readers should absolutely check out their new record for some extremely unique and innovative music.
— Connor Chapkis, DJ