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Joe Harriott: Genius

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There’s so little of Joe Harriott’s music available that any addition to his discography is welcome. And this is a valuable release. It comprises four tracks by Harriott’s pioneering free-form quintet live in 1961; one track apiece of the altoist with the Michael Garrick Quintet (1963) and the Michael Garrick Septet (mid-’60s); and five undated Harriott duos with pianist William Haig-Joyce, apparently recorded in the latter’s front room.

Harriott is known for developing a concept of free-form or abstract jazz contemporaneous with (yet independent of) Ornette Coleman’s free jazz. Unlike Coleman, he continued to play bebop and the quintet tracks here begin with accomplished versions of “Moanin'” and “‘Round Midnight.” Harriott then introduces two of his new abstract pieces, “Coda” and “Tempo,” which had just appeared on the 1960 Free Form LP. Unfortunately, the quintet’s regular trumpeter Shake Keane missed this Manchester concert. His replacement, Les Condon, though a capable player, was presumably less familiar with Harriott’s innovatory approach, and those mercurial alto/trumpet interactions that generate such excitement on Free Form are less in evidence. Keane, though, does feature on the 1963 “Calypso Sketches” (a.k.a. Free Form’s “Calypso”), where his darting tangles with Harriott provide the disc’s most thrilling moments.

The duos are rather poignant. Pianist Garrick, who runs Jazz Academy, thinks they come from the late 1960s, when Harriott worked as a travelling soloist, crashing for periods with fans and friends such as Haig-Joyce. The tunes are from the bebop repertoire, and include a fluent “Confirmation” and a beautiful version of “How Deep Is the Ocean?” But there’s a snag. Coleridge Goode, bassist in Harriott’s original quintet, has overdubbed bass onto four of the duos. Excepting two bowed-bass-and-vocal solos(!), Goode’s presence is unobtrusive-but it still alters the way you listen to the music. Is this really how to treat the legacy of an artist you claim is a genius?