04. Acka Raga
Alto Saxophone – Joe Harriott
Bass – Coleridge Goode
Drums – Alan Ganley
Flute – Chris Taylor
Piano – Pat Smythe
Sitar – Dewan Motihar
Tabla – Keshav Sathe
Tambura – Chandrahas Paigankar
Trumpet, Flugelhorn [Flüglehorn] – Shake Keane
Violin, Harpsichord – John Mayer
Not even relegated to the shadowy status of cult figure, Jamaican-born alto saxophonist Joe Harriott remains virtually unknown today. A key influence in the British free-jazz movement of the early ’60s, Harriott’s adventurous style earned him unfavorable comparisons with Ornette Coleman, even though he was far more boppishly swinging than his volatile American counterpart ever was. An unsung pioneer in the union of Eastern and Western music, Harriott began experimenting with Indian musical forms in the mid ’60s, incorporating its distinctive structures and rhythmic patterns into a jazz framework.
Harriott soon merged his working quintet with a five-piece Indian ensemble headed up by Calcutta composer, conductor, and violin master (he played in the London Philharmonic) John Mayer, co-leading this Indo-jazz “double quintet” until his untimely death in 1973. While the Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet certainly did not invent the mixing of jazz andIndian music (Ravi Shankar and Bud Shank were doing it in 1961), they were the very first group to use the term “fusion” in identifying their sound (don’t blame them…they only gave the genre its F-word name, not its derogatory connotation). Artists of the highest order, they were able to fully evoke the mystery of the East within a solid jazz context, a feat few contemporary jazz and world musicians have matched.
Released in 1967, Indo-Jazz Fusions boldly meshed elements of Western and Indian classical music with modal and free-jazz to create a vibrant and organic new sound. The album opens with the 17-minute Mayer composition, “Partita,” a highly orchestrated suite comprised of three linked movements, featuring strong individual solos and an intense collective improvisation at its end. Mayer nimbly conducts both halves of the Double Quintet as they riff on traditional Indian scales (ragas) and lay down intricate rhythmic patterns (talas). Harriott dominates throughout, playing accessibly and free, his impassioned solos soaring to meet Mayer’s Indian challenge. Chandrahas Paigankar’s droning tamboura and Keshav Sathe’s pulsing tabla combine with Coleridge Goode’s swinging bass and Allan Ganley’s tasteful drums to create an uniquely exotic groove.
“Multani” follows with 11-minutes of equally magical and compelling music, as Mayer opens up his composition with virtuosic statements on violin, while Diwan Motihar deftly plucks his sitar with a mystical flair. When the horns come in, their cohesively chaotic interactions sound strangely like something off Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch. At 2 1/2 minutes in length, the kitschy (and catchy) “Acka Raga” is the perfect track to throw on any cool ’60s mix (it was apparently the theme song to the BBC’s old-school quiz show, “Ask The Family”). The album ends with “Subject,” a tune that starts off sounding like the irritating theme music to the NPR show, “All Things Considered,” before rebounding to a close with some rousing swing from Harriott’s horn.
One of the most fully realized and natural sounding mergers of different musical idioms, Indo-Jazz Fusions broke new ground with its modal free-jazz stylings and heavy use of indigenous instrumentation and players. The album’s tight musicianship and compositional excellence clearly set the standard for future East-West excursions by such jazzers as Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, and John McLaughlin. Classic creators of an authentic Indian-jazz, the Joe Harriott-John Mayer Double Quintet deserves at least as much attention as its more commercially savvy successors in jazz and world music have enjoyed.