A guitarist of searching, sophisticated musicality, Harvey Valdes can traverse styles from avant-jazz and Middle Eastern/Balkan music to improvised film scores and the compositions of Bach. Harvey has an intrepid curiosity about the guitar’s sonic and expressive range; he is also a trained player of the Arabic oud, as well as the Turkish cümbüş. To date, he has released three albums as a soloist/leader: Solitude Intones Its Echo (Destiny, 2019), a set of concise, engaging solo improvisations; Roundabout (2015), his solo debut featuring lyrically inventive takes on jazz standards; and PointCounterPoint (2015), a bristling, Mahavishnu-meets-math-rock trio album with violinist Sana Nagano and drummer Joe Hertenstein. In late 2021, Destiny Records will present Harvey’s newest album: Novare: J.S. Bach Lute Works on Electric Guitar. Underscoring his achievements, Harvey’s venturesome work in the studio and on stage has attracted fans among iconic guitarists, including Andy Summers of The Police, ECM luminary David Torn and avant-garde notable Elliott Sharp.
Based in Brooklyn, NY Harvey earned a BFA degree from The New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music. He has worked with artists from Butch Morris, Karl Berger and Rhys Chatham to Daniel Carter, and the Middle Eastern/Balkan ensemble Anistar, among many others. Harvey has also performed extensively in the New York theater. He held the guitar/oud chair as onstage musician and cast member for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, having originated the role Off-Broadway before moving with the ensemble for the hit run at Broadway’s Barrymore Theater. He played on the show’s 2019 Grammy Award-winning cast album, and he received a daytime Emmy Award for his broadcast performance with the ensemble, along with participating in the 10 Tony wins as a cast member. Harvey has also worked with renowned downtown theater ensemble The Wooster Group, including its presentation of Cavalli’s 1640 opera La Didone; for that production, which toured the U.S. and Europe, he provided a modern interpretation of the Baroque lute, playing electric guitar and guitar synth within an ensemble that also included harpsichord, theorbo and accordion.
BACH ON ELECTRIC
“Harvey Valdes is a fantastic guitarist – musical to the nth degree and with chops to spare, as anyone knows who has heard the way he handles standards and ballads with astonishing contrapuntal virtuosity. Now, with this new album, the special logic in his playing of Bach is wonderfully revealed.”
— ANDY SUMMERS on Novare
Harvey’s experience performing in The Wooster Group’s La Didone helped plant a seed for using the electric guitar to create a sound that connects the past with the present. Like the art of Shakespeare or Van Gogh, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach has been recognized the world over as universal and timeless – sounding as moving and miraculous now as the day these Baroque scores were written, some three hundred years ago. In particular, the lute works that Bach composed have been recorded by the greatest lutenists and classical guitarists across the past century. Yet what Harvey has accomplished with Novare: J.S. Bach Lute Works on Electric Guitar enables us to hear this music in a special, new way. His playing of Bach’s pieces on the modern steel-string guitar is ear-opening; the notes are the same ones Bach put to paper in the 18th century, but Harvey performs them with a tone and texture that sounds fresh and of the moment, without ever trying to unduly “modernize” the music.
Harvey answers the inevitable question of “Why Bach on electric guitar?” by replying: “Why not?! The electric guitar has a capacity for tone, color and dynamics that moves beyond what the acoustic classical guitar can do. There have been some past recordings of electric guitarists who’ve played Bach. These often feature the instrument using high gain and distorted sounds with fast virtuosic playing. I respect this approach, but it’s not the one I wanted to take. I wanted to honor some of the delicate classical guitar approaches while also taking advantage of the sonic dimensions of the electric guitar.” As for the music’s impact, he says: “What drew me into this music was how it spoke to me emotionally. It’s just so profoundly rich – harmonically, melodically and compositionally.” Upon hearing an advance of the album, Elliott Sharp marveled: “With Novare, Harvey brings Bach’s works into the 21st century with a sensuous tone and an articulation that is simultaneously precise and dynamic, even at breakneck tempi. His playing reveals the contrapuntal lines in all their permutational glory.”
It hasn’t just been renowned guitarists who have responded warmly to Novare so far. Simone Dinnerstein, a classical pianist celebrated for her way with Bach summed up the album this way:“Harvey brings an improviser’s sensibility to Bach, which is in so many ways the most authentic approach to the music. There is an understated quality to his interpretations that allows a listener to hear the architecture of the music, and there is a rhythmic malleability that gives breath and presence. It’s a beautiful new take on old gems.”
— SIMONE DINNERSTEIN
SOLITUDE INTONES ITS ECHO
Harvey’s previous album captured him communing with his guitar for a collection of solo improvisations. A mosaic of 18 melody-laced pieces, most around two minutes in length, Solitude Intones Its Echo has a quality of concentrated intimacy. The project was born from Harvey’s series of “morning improvisations” that he posts regularly on Instagram. He explains: “The Solitude Intones Its Echo LP developed out of this exercise in creativity and discipline, where I was trying to make an actual piece of music each morning and share it, something of one minute or less that I streamed live. The process of playing solo, just you and your instrument, becomes this dialogue that you have with yourself. It’s important for any sort of artist to go deep within yourself and bring out what’s inside.”
“Harvey is one of those players who really has something to say, both musically and sonically. Harvey is a special character, seeking his own voice. It’s a real challenge to play improvised solo electric guitar in an individual, alluring way, but Harvey has a flair for leaving space, for holding back in order to play just the right thing.”
— DAVID TORN
When Harvey was first starting to make records, he and Torn bonded over guitar and gear, as well as the oud (the Middle Eastern precursor to the lute), which both artists play. Although decades apart in age – Torn is a veteran instrumentalist extraordinaire, studio sage and composer of high-profile film scores – the two musicians share a sense of sonic adventurism that runs deep. Torn mixed and mastered Solitude Intones Its Echo, heightening its atmosphere of contrapuntal introspection. “The concept of the album centered on spontaneous composition, creating music in the moment but music that isn’t meandering, that has form and concision,” Harvey explains. “With most the pieces being only about a couple of minutes long, the goal was one of melodic and harmonic focus. There’s a cerebral aspect to solo improvised guitar music, obviously, but I think melody is the central feature in most of the pieces on the record. The goal was to elicit an emotional response in the listener.”
“Many of the tracks on Solitude Intones Its Echo begin deliberately before unfolding their beauty… kind of like a time-lapse video of a flower blooming.”
— Paul Acquaro, THE FREE JAZZ COLLECTIVE
For his first album of solo guitar, Harvey radically reinvented a set of jazz standards, deconstructing and re-composing them. “Roundabout was about using those old songs as a leaping off point to explore a pianistic approach to guitar, developing a solo language for myself with closer intervals and extended harmonies,” he explains. The result – which featured his free-minded takes on beloved tunes from “All the Things You Are” and “Stella by Starlight” to “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Blue in Green” – was hailed by the indie jazz press, including a four-star review from All About Jazz and the accolade “sublimely beautiful” coming from The Free Jazz Collective.
“Thoroughly reinventing most of the standards on Roundabout, Valdes displays a fresh harmonic conception… His thoughtful improvisations are consistently intriguing, giving listeners a completely different look at these songs.”
— Scott Yanow, NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
“In trying to make something new and fresh out of the old and familiar, my mission for the album was to bridge the worlds of pianists from Bill Evans to Matthew Shipp – but with a poetic type of guitaristic urgency,” Harvey says. “Of course, I’m just one small part of a vast tradition of jazz musicians exploring these tunes. When I immersed myself in listening to and learning about jazz in my teens, I would work on these tunes in lessons, sessions and gigs. I pored over all the classic recorded versions by Miles Evans, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery and countless others. It took a long time to find myself within them, to discover a way of saying something individual through these songs. But there was no better way to find the space to explore these tunes than in a solo setting. As inspiration, I listened a lot to solo records by piano players – that helped me form a personal approach for the songs of Roundabout.”
“Guitarist Harvey Valdes, who is joined by violinist Sana Nagano and drummer Joe Hertenstein on PointCounterPoint, trades John McLaughlin-style searing, soaring virtuosity and spiritual questing for a gnarly punk jazz base, injecting manic metal mannerisms into the crunchy rhythms, while scattershot violin motifs and tone-tweaking take listeners through uncharted idiomatic terrain.”
— Josef Woodard, JAZZIZ
Although very different to the records that would come after, Harvey’s initial trio album of metallic improv garnered effusive praise, with All About Jazz, for one, describing PointCounterPoint as “cosmic” and brimming with “ferocious interplay and mounting tension.” That captures not only the sound of the record but also the atmosphere of its making. Harvey recalls: “The album was a lot of fun to record, although the material was challenging and there were moments where it felt like it could all come apart – but that made things exciting. The basic idea of the tunes was rhythmic counterpoint with a heavy rocking sound – a modern-jazz/post-metal mash-up that bridged the gap between composition and improvisation. I was playing seven-string guitar at the time, and my intervallic writing was creating this tapestry of consonance and dissonance grounded in odd time and syncopation. With the seven-string, the sound of the low A string is heavy and huge. I wanted the record to be full of that really low, in-your-face, heavy sound but juxtaposed with the singing delicacy of the violin.”
About his trio mates, Harvey says: “I was playing a lot with Sana at the time in Karl Berger’s group and in sessions. We hit it off instantly – her ears are wide open and she loves taking chances. I met Joe through playing with Butch Morris, and soon enough, it seemed like I was playing with him in practically every session around town. Joe is a badass, with groove and texture at the forefront of his playing. When I conceived the trio, I knew his sound would be a perfect match – and he’s all about making a vibe happen. My favorite thing about the music was how we three played off each other. It’s always a great privilege to work with musicians who are deep listeners and ready to take a ride with you.”
STAGE, SCREEN & BEYOND
Along with his extensive Broadway experience with The Band’s Visit, Harvey has performed on the Great White Way in the pit bands of The Book of Mormon, Come From Away and Tootsie. The guitarist has worked on the Off-Broadway stage with Soho Rep and at The Public Theater, in addition to his stints with The Wooster Group. Coming up, Harvey will feature on both guitar and oud in the upcoming Off-Broadway production of The Visitor. As a composer-improviser for film, Harvey contributed a score for Utopians, which premiered at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, where his music was praised for constituting “one of the longest-lasting guitar improvisations since [Neil Young’s score for] Dead Man.”
Harvey has played on stages from Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and St. Ann’s Warehouse to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Chicago Cultural Center, CalArts’ Redcat Theater in Los Angeles, Scotland’s Royal Lyceum Theatre and the United Nations. Harvey has also featured in broadcast performances for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, The Today Show and WNYC-FM, as well as the 72nd annual Tony Awards.
Additional collaborators over the years have included Noël Akchoté, Gerry Hemingway, Lukas Ligeti, Killick Hinds, Jamshied Sharifi, Sean Sonderegger, Henri Scars Struck and Bern Nix. Harvey has recently featured on multiple compilation albums, including the fifth in Elliott Sharp’s anthology series Never Meta Guitar. He also contributed to Go Where There Is No Path, a Destiny Records anthology supporting artists for racial equality, and Walk My Way, a five-volume 577 Records set featuring 49 guitarists of 32 different nationalities from six continents and virtually every sort of musical background. He also played on Eight Hands, One Mind by the Dom Minasi Guitar Quartet with Briggan Krauss and Hans Tanmen, as well as recorded the duo album Nueva Guitarra with avant-metal guitarist Alvaro Domene.
“It is hard to reconcile the young Harvey Valdes who grew up loving Napalm Death and Sepultura with the man who plays sensitive standards like ‘April in Paris’ on solo guitar. You might find the child more visible in the man who rocks in a duo with drummer Damion Reid. In both contexts, Valdes brings a personal approach that is tasteful even when it’s being aggressive, with a deep appreciation of tone as the starting point of music.”
— Michael Ross, GUITAR MODERNE