JJ 12/71: Isipingo at The Phoenix, London

Fifty years ago Barry McRae found two largely improvised hours featuring Harry Beckett and Paul Rutherford too short. First published in Jazz Journal December 1971

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Harry Miller at NDR in 1969. Photo courtesy Cuneiform Records

Such are the changes that constantly occur in the personnel of Harry Miller’s excellent little band that there can be no guarantee who will appear. At their last Phoenix gig they featured Paul Rutherford and Harry Beckett, as well as several faces that were new to me.

The leader’s bass playing is an obvious asset and his strong lines came through even the most dense ensemble. At times he stated themes but, for the main part, he created lines that grew from the parent idea and stood in parallel with those of the horns. His intonation was sure and he never allowed verbosity to cloud his train of thought.

Rutherford and Beckett were both in ex­cellent form. The trombonist, replete with newly repaired front tooth, played with great assur­ance and, like the bassist, made telling use of space. His angular and highly individual phras­ing was constantly intriguing and the listener could rarely anticipate the next melodic direc­tion.

Beckett played naturally in the freer moments. He has always been skilled at modern extemporization in the post bop sense but he is now showing an increasing ability with the open ended solo. On the night in question, he offered many Don Cherry-like ideas, each independent yet linked with an inherent continuity that transcended mere thematic sequence.

Saxo­phonist Dave White completed the front line, although he was somewhat out of his depth. At times he fashioned neat ideas but his deter­mination to fill every available inch of space gave his timing a stilted feeling and tended to drag at the rhythm section.

The audience at the Phoenix is sometimes slow to react, yet Miller’s Isipingo had begun to stir them within half an hour. In fact, the first set was almost two hours long and must have represented a considerable physical ordeal for, in particular, the drummer and the bassist. For the listener, it was two hours that passed all too quickly.