Monday, May 14, 2018

The Joe Harriott Quintet - 1961 - Free Form

The Joe Harriott Quintet
Free Form

01. Formation 6:06
02. Coda 7:53
03. Abstract 3:32
04. Impression 5:25
05. Parallel 5:32
06. Straight Lines 5:50
07. Calypso Sketches 4:37
08. Tempo 6:18

Alto Saxophone – Joe Harriott
Bass – Coleridge Goode
Drums – Phil Seamen
Piano – Pat Smythe
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – 'Shake' Keane

Recorded in London, England; 1960.

 The West Indian-born alto saxophonist Joe Harriott was one of the most convincing boppers outside of the USA at a time when the music was still fresh, though by the end of the 1950s he was exploring freer musical pastures, and the quintet with which he undertook the exploration was an outgrowth of the hard bop band with which he'd made a name on the British scene. As the 1960s progressed, Harriott also proved himself to be something of a pioneer in the fusion field, in the way he fused jazz and classical Indian music. Often in the past the group's music, in which trumpet and flugelhorn player Shake Keane figured alongside Harriott in the front line, has been compared with that of the early Ornette Coleman quartets, but here it's far more interactive, a fact borne out most obviously by the lack of soloists. This makes for a far more organic music than anything Coleman's group was putting out at the time. Here on Free Form (1961) is where the rhythm of that indigenously West Indian form is extraordinarily maintained in the midst of characteristic group exchanges

One of the great jazz albums of the last five decades also has one of the great sleeves. On the front there is an idiosyncratic construct of tree trunk, open shelf and figurines of various sizes and colours while the back sports an ink motif of riotous invention. The images are meaningful. They stand as a metaphor for the constant union of seemingly disparate creative elements that nonetheless cohere. In fact, the stylistic ground covered in the piece ‘Coda’ alone stands as an ambitious integration of idioms from outside as well as within jazz; fleeting classical motifs; a snatch of Caribbean folk melody; an understated bop progression; a modal ostinato. All of which is presented in a tempo that stretches like the elastic in a young rascal’s catapult. This extreme flexibility with the speed and weight of the music is another enormous part of its appeal. The band sound gets thinner and fatter from one chapter of a composition to the next, the breathing and heartbeat of the score increasing and decreasing as the thin man-fat man ensemble negotiates a harmonic spiral staircase. Although the frontline of Harriott, Keane and Smythe is mesmerising in its rhythmic-melodic gymnastics, the multiplicity of accent and attack provided by drums and bassmeisters Seamen and Goode is no less important. The former’s use of mid-range toms to create an almost rock ’n’ roll effect on some pieces is yet another sound of surprise, an astutely “exotic” ingredient thrown into the bouillabaisse. Then again Free Form is quintessentially about a musical dish in which the large number of spices is somehow calibrated so as to not overwhelm the palette. Harriott conceived this music as polyphony and metamorphosis yet it is also precise structure and tightly gripped manipulation of idea. One can theorise limitlessly about parallels between Harriott and Ornette Coleman but at the end of the day it is the presence of both Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman that frames this work. It’s all in the title; it’s not free music but free form music that has evolutionary, liberating DNA, a score that unfetters improvisation without losing its galloping shape. Look at the sleeve again, the construct is multi-faceted but it’s standing straight. 

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