JJ 04/63: Joe Harriott – Abstract

Sixty years ago Mike Shera heard the British saxophonist, seeking the new, fall into the trap of playing extraordinarily elementary clichés. First published in Jazz Journal April 1963

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As far as one can gather from his liner notes, Harriott attempts in his “Free Form” music to portray the musical equivalent of abstract painting – abstract music, in fact. My understanding of his music was not helped by the labels on the disc being on the wrong sides.

Harriott himself is the least convinc­ing soloist on the record. In his despera­tion to get away from the conventional, he falls into the trap of playing extra­ordinarily elementary clichés and repeti­tions of very simple phrases, as though they held some deep significance. Smythe plays well, and sometimes produces some interesting phrases and patterns.

Above all, though, there is the tower­ing talent of Shake Keane, who has the enviable combination of a highly inventive imagination and a technique that is equal to all his demands. Keane is the best and most original trumpeter I have heard from this side of the Atlantic.

The work of both drummers is excel­lent and well recorded. Goode is ade­quate. Most of Harriott’s seven originals (he is also credited with writing Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo”) are consciously “far-out”, with harsh dissonances, startling changes of tempo, and odd intervals. For a sample of the quintet at its best, try “Tonal”.

Discography
(c) Subject; Shadows; Oleo; Modal (24½  min) – (b) Tonal; (a) Pictures; (a) Idioms; (b) Com­pound (22 min)
(a) Shake Keane (tpt); Joe Harriott (alt); Pat Smythe (p); Coleridge Goode (bs); Phil Seamen (d). London, November 22, 1961.
(b) as for (a) except Frank Holder ( bgo, cga) added. Same date.
(c) as for (a) except Bobby Orr (d) replaces Seamen. London, October 5, 1962.
(Columbia 33SX 1477 12inLP 34s. 4½d.)