Elisa Thorn's HUE
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Elisa Thorn's HUE

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | AFM

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | AFM
Established on Jan, 2015
Band Jazz Indie





Harpist Elisa Thorn doesn’t exactly play against type on Hue: her instrument’s standard repertoire tends toward shimmering timbres and delicately beautiful melodies, both of which abound here.

The word that comes to mind is rapturous: Thorn’s captivating music is easy to apprehend, yet possessed of an emotional strength that invites repeated investigation.

Upright bassist James Meger and drummer Justin Devries sometimes tilt the balance toward jazz—especially on “Night Song”, which suggests that Thorn shares pianist Chick Corea’s Spanish heart. Elsewhere, though, the music is harder to classify, unless it’s emblematic of what could be an emerging genre all on its own: smart, contemplative, progressive music made by (mostly) female-fronted ensembles.

“Reds” certainly points that way. Initially driven by an insistent, almost mechanical rhythm, the tune pivots between a pair of enigmatic chords before taking flight into billowing arpeggiated clouds—after which we’re delivered into an extended passage of sunny-Sunday-afternoon loveliness.

What’s most intriguing about Hue, however, is that the music gives only half the picture. Thorn composed the 32-minute mini-album as part of The Painting Project, a multimedia venture in which she’ll play to projected images of her father Bruce Thorn’s abstract-impressionist paintings. - Georgia Straight

"Elisa Thorn's HUE"

“Heard any good harp recordings lately?” Not a question I'm often asked (never, more like), but I've now got an answer: Hue by Elisa Thorn's Painting Project, a strikingly original debut collection that's certainly unlike any harp recording I've heard before. What makes the release a particularly interesting one is that the mini-album's five settings were generated using the abstract paintings of her father, Bruce Thorn, as a basis for composition and improvisation. Though her music holds up perfectly well on its own, an interesting synchronicity does emerge between it and the paintings, especially when, in keeping with her father's MO, she exploits the potential offered by colour, movement, and abstraction in her own works. Even more interesting is the fact that Thorn largely divests the harp of its classical associations by performing material that's closer in spirit to jazz than anything else. It's not a solo recording either, as the Vancouver-based harpist is joined on the set by bassist James Meger and drummer Justin Devries.

The addition of vocalist Britt Macleod to the swoon-inducing opener “Angels” (its text by Anne Szumigalski) makes for such a lovely result, it's a shame she appears on only one of the five songs, though wordless vocals also surface on the serenading closer “Escaping Genie.” “Angels” also shows how effectively Thorn's harp blends with the other instruments, especially when Meger's acoustic bass and Devries' drum brushes are carefully pitched to not overpower her playing. That said, Thorn holds her own when the music turns boisterous, as it gloriously does during “Night Song,” for example, and in an interesting twist, much of Hue eschews the gentility sometimes associated with the harp for a much more aggressive presentation.

As one might expect, dazzling harp strums surface in a number of places (most brilliantly during “Reds” and “Escaping Genie”), but for the most part Thorn picks out melodies on the instrument in a manner reminiscent of a fiercely improvising acoustic guitarist. And while the harp is the lead instrument, Thorn doesn't hog the spotlight: Meger introduces the swinging “Night Song” with a brief solo, and the impression created by the recording is of a full-group project whose members are equally integral to it. The Painting Project is just one of many groups with which Thorn's involved, by the way, with the others ranging from a quartet featuring harp, strings, and vocals (Gentle Party) to a harp-guitar-and-vocals trio (Star Triptych); when not performing or engaged in group projects, this 2011 UBC School of Music graduate is also a teacher who gives lessons in pedal and celtic harp. - Textura

"Elisa Thorn's HUE"

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. - Dominionated


Still working on that hot first release.



Elisa Thorn (Vancouver, BC) is a harpist, composer and vocalist known best for her use of
extended techniques, electronic effects, and unconventional uses of the harp. Combining
elements of pop, jazz, experimental and new music, her innovative sound moves between
contemplative, phrenic, and emotive spaces. Her music has been featured in the Vancouver Jazz
Festival, Suoni Il Per Popolo Festival (Montreal), Detroit Free Arts Festival, TONE Fest, Coetani
Festival for Experimental Flamenco (Greece), and the Sonic Boom Festival. An avid band leader
and collaborator, her projects include Elisa Thorn’s HUE, The Giving Shapes and Gentle Party,
whose debut release, Jouska, was longer-listed for the 2017 Polaris Prize.

Elisa Thorn’s HUE is a trio from Vancouver features, James Meger on bass and JusNn Devries on
drums. The group developed from Thorn’s Painting Project, in which she used paintings by her
father, Bruce Thorn, as inspiration for composition and improvisation. As he explains in his own
artist statement, he is “working to create a vision that is improvisational, intuitive, contemporary
& universal, ” using “abstraction as a mode to reflect upon social and natural environments to
create a journey of exploration and invention rather than a predetermined statement.” In line
with his vision, Elisa created music that explores colour, movement and abstraction. The intimate
trio setting leaves space to highlight the intricate and diverse sonic possibilities of the harp.

HUE released their sophomore album, Flowers For Your Heart, in May 2019. It tackles two artistic
objectives: firstly, how to create music that is both abstract and accessible; and secondly, how to
lead a band with harp in a way does not compromise sensitivity with it’s boldness, or aesthetic
beauty with it’s curiosity. Combining influences of post-rock, jazz, and indie music, this music
isn’t quite like anything you’ve heard before.

With the support of Canada Council for the Arits and Creative BC, HUE has been in collaboration with
vocalist Laura Swankey (Toronto), who is known for her versatility, creativity, vocal atitude and
open mindedness. She has worked with artists such Juno award-winner Mike Murley, Mark
Feldman, Poet Laureate Dennis Lee, Christine Duncan and Ralph Alessi, and premiered works by
Juliet Palmer, Elio Villafranca and Mike McCormick.

Swankey and Thorn met at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2015,
and have worked on several projects together (Jazz Bras Dot Com, Star Triptych) since then.
Swankey was a guest with HUE for our performances in the 2018 and 2019 Vancouver
International Jazz Festival. This live video EP will be released in the fall of 2019. 

Band Members