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Abstract / Red

Joe Harriott

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Album Review

This 1961 date recorded in England shows altoist and composer Joe Harriott in full command. Harriott was, like his contemporary Eric Dolphy, a consummate stylist whose tonal and harmonic inquiries led him off the left-hand path of mainstream jazzers. Harriott was interested in how mode and interval, when stretched to their limits by extended harmonics, could create "impressions" of lyricism and melody, without actually engaging them. The reason for this was simple, and a listen to any of the seven originals here — the cover of "Oleo" is a throwaway — will attest to it. But "Pictures," "Idioms," and "Tonal" — constructed by harmony and rhythm, mode, and interval — could be used to invert standard notions in that space and leave room for musicians or listeners to create their own impressions of what that sound world might be. Rhythmically, the quintet was also interesting, in that they allowed the standard notions of jazz time to fade into freer constructs that undid rhythm altogether — check out the percussion on "Shadows" and try to find a time signature anywhere, though the ensemble has no trouble playing or keeping together during Harriott's raw, bluesed-out solo. Drummers Bobby Orr and Paul Seamen (who alternated) were both amazing. Pianist Pat Smythe was the driving force in the rhythm section, creating very large chords and pulsing them along modal lines to keep everyone focused. Trumpeter Shake Keane was the perfect lyrical foil for Harriott, in that his smooth, high-register approach contrasted brightly with Harriott's gospel and guttersnipe honk, and bassist Coleridge Goode was the technician of atmosphere for this band. Abstract is wonderful; it shows that the Brits were taking the new jazz of the early '60s and placing a spin on it because they had a few players like Joe Harriott. Here is a musician deserving of a wide reappraisal. Let's hope he gets it.

Biography

Born: 15 July 1928 in Jamaica

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s

Joe Harriott's music goes virtually unheard today, yet the alto saxophonist exerted a powerful influence on early free jazz in England. The Jamaican-born and raised Harriott played with his countrymen, trumpeter Dizzy Reece and tenor saxophonist Wilton "Bogey" Gaynair, before emigrating to England in 1951. In London, Harriott worked freelance and in the band of trumpeter Pete Pitterson. In 1954, he landed an important gig with drummer Tony Kinsey; the next year he played in saxophonist Ronnie Scott's...
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Abstract / Red, Joe Harriott
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