By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Earl Harvin Trio
Winner for: Jazz
You do not catch up with Earl Harvin; you do not even attempt to keep pace, lest your lungs collapse and heart explode. For as long as anyone can recall, he's been the Barry Allen of the local music community--the drum-kit blur that blows past you as he answers the call of someone in need. That's how he wound up playing with Richard Thompson, the beloved composer of the wry and wrenching rock songs since Harvin was a kid in New Jersey still dreaming of playing the trumpet; that's how he ended up with Seal and Joe Henry and The The long before that. They phoned, needed the front man who plays behind the band, and he came from the sticks with his sticks to lay down the beat they needed but only he knew how to give. Turns out you can't keep a secret weapon hush-hush when he plays like Harvin--jazzer, punk-rocker, space cowboy, motherfunker, collector of paychecks from pop stars, keeper of backbeats for old folkies, a maker of music who's in such a rush (and who is such a rush) he has no time for making distinctions. He likes what he likes, plays what he plays, is who he is--everything, always.
One day, perhaps, voters will realize that you can be Musician of the Year even if you don't play guitar, sing about heartbreak and hangovers or front Up With People. He's the perennial favorite in this category, though he's justa jazzer the same way Randy Johnson is justa baseball player. (Besides, Richard Thompson says, "Earl's not allowed to play jazz in our band. We have a jazz fine system. I jest." Beat. "Slightly.") Look only at Harvin's résumé over the past two years: an album with his eponymous trio co-starring league MVPs Fred Hamilton and Dave Palmer (Unincorporated, a Wurlitzer-wind of a disc labeled "free jazz" only because you can't buy this kind of brilliant), another with the Black Frames (upon which Harvin, Mike Dillon, Skerik and Brad Houser funk with whatever's lying around the woodshed), a guest appearance on NYC-based AwRY's deep-n-dark debut, a laptop-electronica stint with Wanz Dover and Bill Longhorse on the Terilli's-Sambuca circuit and now a U.S. tour with Thompson. He still craves writing for and performing with another rock band, long after the dissolution of rubberbullet, and somewhere down the long road plans on making an instrumental disc for Lift to Experience drummer Andy Young's Bella Union spin-off; "me and weird instruments and a G4 and whatever the hell happens," is how Harvin envisions it.
"I always try to do a little more than strictly being a drummer and playing with people, which I love and would never give up doing because I love playing with different people and playing all these different kinds of music," Harvin says. "As a kid, I listened to all kinds, and what I'm doing keeps me fresh. But I am more and more into the idea of putting together music as a whole, if nothing else for me and the 10 people who might buy it."
Harvin ended up touring with Thompson when Michael Jerome, who'd been playing with the Fairport Convention founder since the late '90s, took a gig with James Hall and the Pleasure Club. Jerome didn't want the gig going to just anyone, but a good friend whose playing he admired. Thompson knew Harvin had a jazz trio, heard his recordings with Seal and caught a Black Frames show. "And I thought they were absolutely fantastic," he says. "What I liked about them was apart from the vague similarity from a band called Gong from the '70s; I thought it was uncategorizable music. It certainly isn't jazz, it isn't classical, it definitely isn't rock and roll. It's something kinda unique, and I thought the way Earl played in that band was very original." But Thompson would have hired Harvin anyway--not just on Jerome's glowing recommendation, but for far more simple reasons.
"Michael recommended Earl for the band, and I thought we'll take him, because he's called Earl," Thompson says. "Earl Palmer, Earl Harvin--anybody called Earl is just fine. I've always wanted to play with somebody called Earl, anyway, so I didn't even have to hear him. I figured he could do anything--he can--and his name is Earl, so I didn't think there'd be much of a problem. Then he turns up for rehearsal and bang, from the first downbeat, away we go." --R.W.
I Love Math
Winner for: Folk/Acoustic
Since John Dufilho started his one-man band the Deathray Davies four years ago while he was in his other group Bedwetter, the joke has been that he believes idle hands are the devil's playground. That he's constantly writing, playing, recording, whistling, whatever. There's music and it must come out somehow. The same can be said for his bandmates in I Love Math, the side project to the Deathray Davies he started with Jason Garner (also formerly of Bedwetter and currently the bassist for the Deathray Davies). Something had to take up those spare minutes when Bedwetter disbanded, right? Rounding out the quartet are fellow overachievers guitarist Aaron Kelley (who writes and records for his Edge of the World Studios) and drummer Philip Peeples (on hiatus from The Old 97's) who stepped in when Deathray Davies/I Love Math drummer Bill Shupp moved to Los Angeles. As proof, I Love Math's self-titled album on Summer Break Records hasn't been on the racks long, and already six tracks have been laid down for the next album. More will be recorded once Dufilho and Garner return from the Deathray Davies' West Coast tour in the coming weeks. To this band, the quasi-regular Sunday-night gigs at the Barley House--rife with obscure British covers and guest appearances by friends in such bands as Lucy Loves Schroeder and the Happiness Factor--are like a break instead of the marathon, brain-picking sessions they would be for others. You don't have to do the math, let alone love it, to understand this is a busy band, and not just some folkies sittin' on stools. --Shannon Sutlief