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Joe Harriott: Swings High


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Joe Harriott: Swings High
Like many players who are primarily thought of as "experimental" and/or "free form"—and virtually all of the best of them—the Jamaican-born, later London-based alto saxophonist Joe Harriott was also a master of straight four/four jazz and Great American Songbook balladry. Yet in 2022, Harriott (1928-1973) is almost exclusively remembered either for his adventures in Indo-jazz fusion with the violinist John Mayer and, separately, guitarist Amancio D'Silva, or his own harmolodic-esque, but not Ornette Coleman-beholden, albums such as Free Form (Jazzland, 1960) and Abstract (Columbia, 1962), both, incidentally, remastered and reissued in 2021 on Free Form & Abstract Revisited (ezz-thetics).

Harriott's roots were in bop, however, a style he revisited from time to time. Swings High, first released in 1970 and in 2022 remastered from the original vinyl and reissued by Cadillac, is one such album. Fronting a quintet completed by trumpeter Stu Hamer (the lesser known brother of trumpeter Ian Hamer), pianist Pat Smythe, bassist Coleridge Goode and drummer Phil Seaman, Harriott offers eight tracks which range from bop (the furiously paced original "Tuesday Morning Swing"), through hard bop (trumpeter Dizzy Reece's quirky "The Rake" and "Shepherd's Serenade"), through the blues (the originals "Just Goofin'" and "Blues In C"), through R&B retentions (Harry South's "Strollin' South") and exquisite ballads (Johnny Mandel's "A Time For Love" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Polka Dots And Moonbeams").

Harriott's passionate, astringent sound stamps his mark on all the material, and the music is lifted by a superb band. Seamen, who set the great Ginger Baker on the high road to jazz (in more than one sense), was undoubtedly the best of Britain's hard bop drummers and Goode, another Jamaican-born player, who passed aged 100 years in 2015, was one of the country's all-time finest bassists. Smythe, an upper class Scot who was a protégé of Harriot's and who passed in 1983, deserves to be better remembered. So, too, Hamer, whose muted trumpet lights up "A Time For Love" but who, sadly, was out for the other ballad, the Harriott feature, "Polka Dots And Moonbeams." (There seems to be no YouTube footage from Swings High, but the clip below provides a great taste of Harriott the balladeer.)

Track Listing

Tuesday Morning Swing; A Time For Love; The Rake; Blues In C; Shepherd’s Serenade; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; Strollin’ South; Just Goofin’ (Count Twelve).


Joe Harriott: saxophone; Stu Hamer: trumpet; Pat Smythe: piano; Coleridge Goode: bass; Phil Seamen: drums.

Album information

Title: Swings High | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Cadillac Records

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