Eric Harland: Searching the Patterns in Life
So Harland gave up the jazz life, returned to Houston and enrolled in the Houston Baptist University College of Biblical Studies and became an ordained minister.
From left: Zakir Hussein, Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland
"So I gave my life over the Christ, and I went to church and I kind of got renewed through that and it really helped me," he s.ays "Everything made sense and I just told myself, 'I can get onboard with this.'
"I began to preach the Gospel of Christ, I learned a lot about the Bible, everything about the Bible made sense, I started understanding the history of the Bible and I was like, 'This is really great,'" explains Harland.
But instead of being the end of his spiritual searching, Harland's studies and ordination fueled an ongoing journey he's still exploring.
"I'm cool with who I am and what I amand that's the key," he says. "It's not about following a rule book or someone else's rulesI've kind of come up with my own. Everything has a cause and effect. For me, it just seems to be evolution."
That evolution led him back to the drum kit. The matured Harland returned to New York and built a reputation as a solid and inventive drummer on a series of studio sessions. After recording on saxophonist Greg Tardy's appropriately named Serendipity(Universal, 1998), Harland appeared on pianist Aaron Goldberg's Turning Point (J Curve, 1999) and trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Wandering Moon (Sony Classical, 2000).
Since then, it's been a torrent of dates and tours, working with Kenny Garrett, Greg Osby, McCoy Tyner, Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Dave Holland and others. He's a member of the SFJAZZ Collective (San Francisco Jazz Collective, was tapped for the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival quartet, and has been touring with Charles Lloyd.
And in 2006, he toured with Lloyd and Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain, stretching Harland's musical chops further. The concerts included improvisations moving Harland from behind the drums to piano and keyboards, and to create rhythms matching the elements of Hussain's playing.
Listening to the trio's live recording, Sangam (ECM, 2006), Harland's inventive fills and melodic playing loom large. He said he thought about how to work within the shifting rhythmic patterns found in Asian drumming.
"I remember riding around in Pakistan with this student, and I was just tapping my hands, you know, and he said, 'You're playing sevensdo you often play sevens,'" Harland says, referring to the repetition of patterns in a rhythmic cycle. "And I was hadn't even thought about it, and then I realized that, yeah, I was."
"You know, in India, they have this involved and formal system of rhythms they use, and some are sevens, some are 12s. But they grow up using them and it becomes second nature to them, so they just think like that," he explains.
Harland also says that the experience was an eye-opener that further expanded his appreciation of drumming and rhythms.
"I pretty much learned from everybody, that's the way I like to look at," he says, noting that he eschews formalized training, finding it off-putting and stilted.
"I've watched how they do clinics and things and every body gets so wired about thingsit's like, 'You gotta do this' and 'You gotta do that,'" Harland says. "I don't respect the teacher who stick to books and doesn't pay attention to the students that they have in class.
"Now I understand for a lot of kids, you have to have a system," he adds. "It makes sense but at the same time, there has to be a way to develop a system that you don't have to try to keep this order because something for the sake of order you lose this organic feel to it."
At this point in his spiritual journey, staying in the musical moment, keeping it real, is vital to Harland. He's been experimenting with compositional techniques in search of finding the most creative, in-the-moment moments for his music.
"I think about the techniques; I think about the chords; I think about the form, about the format; about the structurebut at the same time, sometimes, I try to just try to shape a tune around just a melodic line," says Harland. "And then this new thing, because of the technology we have, I've started to take a line and a bunch of times, just writing a bunch of random notes on a score and seeing what it sounds like. You know, writing random rhythms at the same time. And then you come up with very open, unique soundit gives a different point of reference.
"And then you allow your artistic creativeness to really come to the forefront because you're really hearing something, you hear something that hasn't been done," he adds. "What I do then at that point, is to adjust the notes or the rhythms accordingly to try to find a tonal center or a keytry to find a melody in the chaos.