The Wheel, a five movement suite for double quartet and guitar, is something round: The tires are chunky and capable of taking you off the well-worn musical paths into new territory. In this case we enjoy the ride between classical and jazz worlds; it is better to travel than to arrive.
Harrison comments, "The impulse for this multi movement suite came from a longstanding determination to make music that equally represents improvisation and notation. I wanted to assemble a body of work that contained the intimacy, complexity, and beauty of acoustic concert music and merge it with the raw, grooving spontaneity of jazz. Though by no means a new idea, I felt that it was an area still ripe with possibility.
"Two classic ensembles join forces from their respective worlds: string quartet and jazz quintet. Rather than writing jazz music and then pasting on the strings, like icing on a cake, I started by writing string quartet music with Appalachian, African, and modern classical sensibilities. The improvisation stems from a bedrock of notation, and comes in a variety of forms, from more typical solos over changes, to duo improvising, to free ensemble ‘blowing.' Hopefully there are seamless transitions between the soul and spontaneity of improvising and the structure of written notes, resulting in a kind of music that truly IS both worlds, and does not just borrow from them."
Joel Harrison is a musical jack-of-all-trades, who is just at home with improvised music as with rock and American, Asian, and African ethnic music. Every movement establishes its own emphases and functions as an independent piece, as in jazz. And yet it is only from the totality of all the pieces that a statement emerges; that this is a true (and attractive) fusion of opposites.