Street Sounds: Vernon guitarist’s hooks are impressive

Jazz-rock guitarist Chris Harwood-Jones updates the classic fusion-era sound on Unhooked with his first solo album.

Jazz-rock guitarist (and local Anglican minister)  Chris Harwood-Jones updates the classic fusion-era sound on Unhooked with his first solo album.

The Vernon musician’s confident form is bolstered by some guests of renown (Bill Ray, Alain Caron, Aaron Anderson and lone singer Kim Richardson) in a well realized take on a tidy hybrid.

Produced by Norman Robidoux at Hammerhead Studios in Coldstream, Unhooked is a punchy and clean record that highlights the dynamic of over-driven riffs with light, fanciful passages.

It’s an update on the heavy fusion sound of the late 1970s that at times resembles the vibe of Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. It’s a guitar head’s wet dream.

The album is surprising. It starts with a breezy track that rides on a boppy vamp before exiting stage left for intense sound effects and solos (Jubilee).

Harwood-Jones is a skilled, clean player, well-versed in the genre and he incorporates elements of players like Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck and Alan Holdsworth.

Beck’s influence can be heard in the super-slick, stop-time riffing of Flow and Free Flight. On those he blends over-driven tones and macho riffs with wild solos and introspective lines over a funky bass line. It’s finely controlled mayhem and heavy expressionism.

Detectable in some of Harwood-Jones’ arsenal of sounds is the heart of a shredder hell bent on making its presence felt. That, combined with a Holdsworthian touch of legato phrasing and fluid whammy bar textures, make Unhooked a startling jazz-rock discovery.

Of special note is Space, a bludgeoning shred-fest that’s a duet between drummer Bill Ray and Harwood-Jones on guitar and bass(!) – an impressive display of power and skill.

Lest it be thought that this recording is just a heavy one (and it can be), there’s some tender moments. Letting Go is a groovy excursion on loss featuring Kim Richardson on lead vocal, backed by Jon Buller and Karen Wiseman.

Lamentation is another, a lyrical piece of chordal melody that finishes the album on a wistful note.

Dean Gordon- Smith is a Vernon-based musician s whose column, Street Sounds, appears in The Morning Star Fridays.