By Roy Sander
Metropolitan Room – March 28, 31
Unless you’re a shut-in, you’ve probably seen guitarist Sean Harkness backing up any number of fortunate singers around town—which means that you are already familiar with how gifted and multi-faceted a musician he is and you’ve seen the enthusiasm, joy, and commitment he brings to performing. In his recent solo gig, we saw that he is also an impressive—and expressive—composer, an engaging narrator/raconteur, and a singer with a most agreeable baritone that is as natural and unaffected as the man, himself.
This wasn’t a show so much as it was a set, an hour or so of music, mainly original Harkness instrumental pieces, selected by him on the fly as the evening progressed. He informed us that when asked to categorize his music, he doesn’t know how to respond. Understandable, since his music resists pigeonholing. “Coming Home”, which he told us is his wife’s favorite, is filled with warm chords and progressions and sweet melody, whereas “Wally, the Body Snatcher” has a folk/funk quality.
His music is rich in mood and imagery. “Summer Solstice” evoked the feel and atmosphere of a mellow, carefree day. The next song, which he performed without giving its title, had a Southwestern American flavor and sounded very much like the end of that day, when everything is winding down most satisfactorily. How appropriate that its title should be—as I learned later—”Puesta del Sol” (sunset). With “Nod to John”, which he wrote in tribute to jazz guitarist John Scofield, Harkness dazzled with his technical virtuosity.
In another nod, this time to his Scottish ancestry, some time ago Harkness devised a Celtic tune. He subsequently developed it into a composition, which he played for us. Bearing the temporary title “Wynkus McGynkus,” it is a marvelous piece, a Celtic air that sounds as though it had come here from the old country, and if I hadn’t been raised properly—and if I knew how—it would have had me dancing in the aisles. He described an infectious, as-yet untitled piece as sounding West African to him. It did to me as well, bringing to mind the jaunty spirit of an unpressured existence and the joyous bustle of a village market.
Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was one of the set’s few cover vocals. Although he took some regrettable liberties with the lyrics, his jazz/pop interpretation succeeded in being affecting—no less so because he sang it for his wife, who was in the audience. He also delivered a simple, heartfelt rendition of “Smile” (Charles Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons); the energetic guitar accompaniment provided an interesting contrast without undermining the song’s emotional core.
On top of Harkness’s manifest and manifold talents, throughout the evening he projected a combination of artlessness and decency. These qualities cast a warm, gratifying glow on the proceedings.
from BistroAwards.com, March 2010