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


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”.

(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.)