Interpretation and inspiration can be integral to an artist’s vision. For musicians, especially in the streaming age, every song is available and ready to be reimagined by cool upstarts who have done their homework but have little vision of what is next. The most exciting music takes its inspirations and does more than copy them, they shove it all in a blender and hope that the resulting sonic smoothie isn’t too chalky or too much like every other smoothie you’ve drunk this month. While this can be an extremely successful method, finding inspiration outside of music through other art forms can be just as exciting and often more rewarding and interesting.
Elisa Thorn is a harpist from Vancouver and her latest project, the aptly named The Painting Project and the subsequent album Hue is directly inspired by her father, Bruce Thorn, and several of his paintings. Each song is named after the painting it was inspired by, all of which are abstract and colourful. The project is not a mere gimmick. Each song has an abstract feel to it, and the collection feels warm, loving and exploratory. Accompanying Thorn’s magnificent harp playing is the highly efficient rhythm section of Justin Devries on drums and James Merger on bass.
I’m no jazz aficionado, but Hue feels well informed by the classics while still featuring modern flavors and experimentation. With Thorn’s harp as the lead instrument, there is a delicacy to these songs that would sound a bit more bombastic fronted by a sax or even a piano. On “She Was Always Late”, one of several high points on the album, there are long, noisy breakdowns that would be much harder to enjoy and endure if they featured harsher sounding instruments. “Night Song” has a laid back and melancholic Cuban feel to it, Thorn’s harp acting as the guitar and horn section, and shows the depth of her musical knowledge.
Thorn’s true potential is most prominently displayed on “Reds”. It could pass as a post-2000 Radiohead tune, musically complex yet propulsive and emotional. Inspired by jazz, sure, but an incredible example of an artist using their influences and skill to create something magic. It also highlights how important risk taking is in music today. People love to feel safe in every aspect of their lives, including musicians, but Thorn is clearly a risk taker and a doer which in turn has made her an exceptionally creative force. Perhaps this fearlessness is inspired by her father and his own glaring ability to create beauty out of nothing and maybe that is why Hue feels so inspired and masterful. Despite being a master in a different medium than her father, Elisa Thorn has picked up her family’s torch and found her own voice. If Hue is any indication, she will keep running with it beyond jazz into her own sonic and artistic territory.