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
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 recordingson "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" his alto sounds as if it was filled with cotton woolbut 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 sidemenSeamen, Goode and trumpeter Shake Keane
are all worthy of particular praisebut the saxophonist is the undoubted star. The Joe Harriott Story
is a superb reminder of this immensely talented musician.