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Joe Harriott: The Joe Harriott Story

Bruce Lindsay By

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Almost 40 years after his death in 1973 at just 44 years of age, Joe Harriott's talent, imagination and impact on the development of jazz in Britain are gaining greater recognition than ever. Indeed, The Joe Harriott Story, an exceptional 4-disc box set of music from the alto saxophonist, is both a reflection of this belated recognition and, hopefully, another step towards increasing his reputation as a master musician.

Harriott spent his formative years in Jamaica's famed Alpha School for Boys: an institution also attended by trombonists Rico Rodriguez and Don Drummond, saxophonist Tommy McCook, flautist Harold McNair and singer Desmond Dekker. He arrived in England in 1951. In 20 active years, he moved through the dance band scene and early bebop bands, eventually crafting his own approach to free jazz and collaborations with Indian musicians such as violinist and composer John Mayer, most famously on their 1967 album, Indo Jazz Fusions (Columbia).

There are no Mayer collaborations on The Joe Harriott Story, but the album covers a 13-year period, from the first Joe Harriott Quartet sessions of 1954 through to his Quintet album from 1967, Swing High (Melodisc). There are tunes from his work with the little-known Buddy Pipp's Highlifers, Kenny Baker's mainstream Jazz Today Unit, the relaxed bop of the Tony Kinsey Quartet and the harder edged Ronnie Scott Orchestra. Harriott wasn't always blessed with the highest quality recordings—on "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" his alto sounds as if it was filled with cotton wool—but the standard of his playing never falters and he switches effortlessly between ensembles and styles.

While Harriott was a fine exponent of contemporary jazz, he was also one of Britain's most forward-looking players, experimenting with free jazz at the same time as Ornette Coleman. Harriott's first album of "free form music"—1961's Free Form (Jazzland)—is presented in its entirety here. Fifty years on, these eight tunes still sound fresh and innovative, even if they no longer sound as radical as they did at the time.

Charlie Parker's influence on Harriott's early development is clear: Harriott even recorded two tunes with a string section in 1955 (Joe Harriott With Strings, Jazz Today Records): "I'll Remember April" and "Easy To Love." As he developed his ideas about jazz, Harriott gradually crafted a more personal style as shown by the two versions of "Just Goofin.'" The 1955 Quartet performance finds Harriott still displaying a tight, Parker-esque tone while the band, with the exception of drummer Phil Seamen, sounds rather restrained. The 1967 Quintet version is played at the same tempo, but feels faster, thanks to Seamen and bassist Coleridge Goode's driving rhythm. Harriott's tone is softer and he sounds more confident, while Goode and pianist Pat Smythe deliver fluid and exciting solos.

This set showcases the talents of many of Harriott's sidemen—Seamen, Goode and trumpeter Shake Keane are all worthy of particular praise—but the saxophonist is the undoubted star. The Joe Harriott Story is a superb reminder of this immensely talented musician.

Track Listing: CD1 (Out Of Nowhere): Cherokee; Out of Nowhere; Summertime; April in Paris; Last Resort; Best Behaviour; How Deep is the Ocean?; Get Happy; Akee Blues; Jump For Me; Can't We Be Friends?; Raymond-Overture Theme; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Chirracahua; Teddi; The Song Is You; It Don't Mean A Thing. CD2 (Just Goofin'): Blues in Threes; Introduction; Harlem; She's Funny That Way; Fascinating Rhythm; I'll Remember April; Easy To Love; You'll Never Know; Just Goofin'; Everything Happens to Me; Just Friends; Joe's Blues; Bang; A Night in Tunisia; The Big Fist; Blues Original; My Heart Belongs to Daddy. CD3 (Abstract): Still Goofin'; Count Twelve; Senor Blues; Southern Horizons; Jumpin' With Joe; Liggin'; Caravan; You Go To My Head; Tuesday Morning Swing; Formation; Coda; Abstract; Impression. CD4 (Straight Lines): Parallel; Straight Lines; Calypso Sketches; Tempo; Tuesday Morning Swing; A Time For Love; The Rake; Blues in C; Shepherd's Serenade; Polkadots and Moonbeams; Strollin' South; Just Goofin.'

Personnel: Joe Harriott: alto saxophone. With: Joe Harriott Quartet; Tony Kinsey Quartet; Buddy Pipp's Highlifers; Kenny Baker and the Jazz Today Unit; Joe Harriott With Strings; Lita Rosa with the Tony Kinsey Quartet; Ronnie Scott Orchestra; Joe Harriott Quintet with Frank Holder; Joe Harriott Quintet.

Title: The Joe Harriott Story | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Proper Box UK

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