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Call it partisanship or maybe musical chauvinism, but North American audiences have traditionally had little appreciation for jazz musicians from the United Kingdom or, for that matter, Europe. Rewind back to 1961, and explain why Americans were not hip to the Joe Harriott Quintet? His two releases, Free Form, released in 1961, and Abstract, in 1963, if released by an American artist would have been held in the same regard as the music of Sonny Rollins or Ornette Coleman. That might be a bold statement, but the proof is these remastered recordings.
Harriott was born in Jamaica in 1928. His career blossomed in the London scene and, like almost every other musician, he was influenced by the revolution of Charlie Parker's bebop sound. His alto saxophone, though, would go on to explore 'free form' music much like Ornette Coleman. He differs from Coleman here in that, although Ornette parted ways with pianist Paul Bley in the late 50s, Harriott embraced the chordal instrument. We hear pianist Pat Smythe on both of these revisited releases. But like Ornette with Don Cherry, Harriott's music is partnered by trumpeter Shake Kane. The music heard here is bebop without barlines. Like early Coleman, Harriott was freeing not only himself, but his entire quintet. We hear flavors of hard bop in "Formation" and "Abstract," West Coast coolness in "Coda" and the 'islands sound' associated with Sonny Rollins on "Calypso." Harriott was a musical omnivore and, while 15 of the 16 tracks were penned by him, perhaps his cover of Rollins' "Oleo" is evidence that he was as hip and forward-thinking as the tenor titan. Playing with lissome and nimble fingers, Harriott and crew hurtle themselves through the changes like a speeding automobile. Changing pace, "Modal" is a slow-drag blues featuring Kane's trumpet plus his well-placed rhythm tapping on a brandy glass. Whether you discovered Harriott from Ken Vandermark's Joe Harriott Project release Straight Lines (Atavistic, 1999) or have never before heard of this jazz icon, Free Form & Abstract Revisited is an excellent place to start.