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A musical meeting of like minds

The cover photo for their new album, Border depicts the three members of Breach behind sand pies topped with the flags of Scotland, England and Canada.

What's contained inside, however, smacks entirely of united nations rather than statements of independence or national pride.

For Paul Harrison, the Mancunian who has made Scotland his home since he left school, Breach has become family and therein, he feels, lies the group's strength.

"We're of a similar age, we all have diverse interests in music and we've reached that stage where we can say anything to each other without causing offence, and I think that comes across in the music," he says of the trio that began inauspiciously in a pub playing to five people and has gone on to receive enthusiastic receptions on both sides of the Atlantic.

The idea for Breach came about when Harrison, who had been rediscovering his passion for the organ after establishing himself as a first-call pianist on the Scottish jazz scene, Canadian drummer Chris Wallace and Aberdeen-born guitarist Graeme Stephen decided to get together and just play. They had no grand plans but as soon as they started to play, they felt something exciting happening.

"I'd never imagined that an organ trio would take off," says Harrison, who actually started music lessons as a five-year-old on a Hammond organ before moving on to piano. "For that first gig we all just brought tunes that we wanted to try out and maybe because we were already friends – we were all living quite close to each other in Leith at the time – something clicked. We could be as adventurous as we liked and yet, the moment we hit a groove, we were on it together. The other people there were possibly blissfully unaware that, for us, something magical was taking root but subsequent gigs and reactions to our first album, On the Walk, have suggested that we had reason to feel good about what we were doing."

The organ trio has a strong history in jazz. In the late 1950s musicians such as the trailblazer Jimmy Smith, Richard "Groove" Holmes and Brother Jack McDuff fused the virtuoso improvisations of bebop with rhythm 'n' blues, gospel and blues influences into a style that remained popular into the next decade and beyond. Larry Young, with Tony Williams's Lifetime and his own groups, took the format into more experimental territory and his is the bar that Harrison has his sights set on.

HE says: "It's almost impossible not to sound a bit like Jimmy Smith, even briefly, just because of the nature of the instrument," he says. "And that's great because that was a really exciting sound. Brian Auger is another hero of mine because of his ability to groove and create exciting solos. But we're still discovering what the organ can do and that's its appeal for me: the more you find out about it, the more you want to know. It's addictive and you can just switch it on and have that classic sound."

That classic sound isn't enough for Harrison, though, and Breach gives him a platform to introduce what he refers to as lo-fi electronics. In other projects such as Trianglehead, with saxophonist Martin Kershaw and drummer Stu Ritchie, Harrison has proved himself adept at creating interesting new sounds, sometimes using the laptop that he's decided against incorporating into Breach in favour of loops and delay effects which he feels offer more immediate results.

"There's a lot of soul searching going on at the moment about how we interest a young audience in jazz," says Harrison, who as the piano tutor on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's jazz course is only too aware of the high standard of players who are coming through and who will shortly need to see some audience development if they're going to play to their peers. "I love the jazz tradition and wouldn't think about turning my back on it. But we need to make the music interesting for people who don't necessarily know its history, and with Breach we're making music that has the values of jazz yet reaches out to new listeners through different sounds and influences."

As for his feeling that the organ trio is about to undergo another surge in popularity, he can point to the number of RCS students who have been asking him for lessons. "Teaching at the Conservatoire is inspiring anyway," he says. "I feel as energised after a 90-minute piano lesson as I hope the students do and the interest they're showing in the organ bodes well for groups like Breach, although we'll have to watch because the students are now going off and forming organ trios of their own. The standard of musicianship is actually frightening. I find myself coming home and practising just to keep up with my pupils."

Breach plays the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh on Wednesday, October 24; Glasgow Art Club on Thursday, October 25; and Blue Lamp, Aberdeen on Thursday, November 1.

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