Jesse Harris & The Ferdinandos

Music Reviews Jesse Harris & The Ferdinandos
Jesse Harris & The Ferdinandos

Long before he took home a Grammy for writing “Don’t Know Why” for Norah Jones, Jesse Harris was honing his craft in New York with the Ferdinandos. The group included guitarist Tony Scherr, who’s worked with both Sophie B. Hawkins and John Lurie, and (until recently) drummer John Wolleson, who’s performed alongside both Ron Sexsmith and Bill Frisell.

But this is just the long-winded way of saying Harris’ attempts to bridge the gap between pop and jazz go back nearly a decade. And also why it’s all the more frustrating that, in such an interesting musical environment, Harris still comes out with music that has all the excitement of a middling James Taylor record.

Like Jones, Harris attempts to pass himself off as pseudo-jazz by using chord progressions uncommon to pop in order to convey a sense of sophistication. When he’s prodded by guest musicians—like Frisell on “I Never Changed My Mind” and Van Dyke Parks, who arranged the strings on four of the tracks including “Mirror Ball,” which boasts a jaunty little Eastern European rhythm—Harris is capable of producing music that lives up to his pedigree. And the playful horns on both “Wild Eyes” and “More” pack a punch that’s missing from the majority of the album.

For the most part, though, Harris plays the middle, neither embracing the adventurousness of jazz composition and improvisation nor the irresistibility of pop hooks. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course (see Brad Mehldau or Frisell’s own work for recent examples). Heck, just put on Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.” Harris captured that magic once, and maybe he’s got another one in him. But there’s nothing so undeniable on While the Music Lasts.

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