Cast A Shadow

Joe Harriott
Free Form
Jazzland : 1961

JH, alto sax; Shake Keane, trumpet and flugelhorn; Pat Smythe, piano; Coleridge Goode, bass; Phil Seaman, drums.

Common reactions upon first hearing Joe Harriott – from an unscientific poll of friends:
1) “Is this Ornette?”
2) “This is from… when?”
3) “British? Really?”
4) “Given a blindfold test and provided with a time span equivalent to the age of the known universe, I wouldn’t think to cite Joe Harriott until after the last ember had faded from view.”

Hailed by The Wire as “the U.K.’s greatest jazz musician,” Joe Harriott is probably best known in this country for his Indo-Jazz fusion albums with John Mayer. Stirring stuff to be sure, but the bedrock of his achievement are the three trailblazing free jazz albums he recorded in the early sixties – Free Form, Abstract, Movement. This unjustly obscure body of work has been favorably compared to the best of Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus from the same period. And if that sounds like impossible hype, there’s little doubt that Harriott’s work was every bit as innovative.

Sure these tracks sound more than a little like Ornette. But it’s not a question of copying or influence, but about the strange confluence of ideas that sometimes occurs across continents. Like the case of Alfred Wallace, who hit upon the idea of evolution at almost the exact same time as Charles Darwin, only half a world away. Of course, one doesn’t hear all that much from Wallace’s corner these days, do one.

Not that we should get too hung up on the similarities. History has a way of flattening our ears — just the other day we heard a Charlie Parker ringtone and could’ve sworn it was some Ornette off Shape of Jazz to Come! So check out this wonderful piece on Harriott from All About Jazz that delineates the many temperamental and compositional differences between him and Coleman,  starting with the prominent fact that Harriott used a piano.

As for the tracks, they’re less highlights than what happened to hit us this moment. We’ve been listening to Free Form all week and hearing different highlights with every spin. The entire album is rock solid and we’ll definitely be featuring more tunes from it in the future. For now, enjoy the surging unison playing of “Straight Lines,” the fiery galloping push-pull of “Abstract,” and the buoyantly dense dance of “Calypso Sketches.”

Hopefully some intrepid label will reissue Free Form, Abstract, and Movement together in one convenient box and we’ll watch how quickly history rewrites itself. For now, you can get a refracted idea of Harriott’s glory through Ken Vandermark’s Straight Lines, which pays tribute to the man whose music lurks ever more persistently in jazz’s shadows.

Category Joe Harriott

6 Responses to Cast A Shadow

  1. One of the joys of this site is hearing music of a different and understanding it’s truly timeless. Because we Americans are so nationalistic, poor Joe Harriott didn’t stand a chance of having much popularity until the Indo-Jazz fusion. He certainly can play and write — this is such intelligent music with great interplay. Sure would make for an interesting box on Mosaic.

  2. Just a heads up that I found you from Hot Links:
    You may have a lot of additional viewers today.

    So, for a newbie to your blog, what is up with the crossed-out mp3 titles. Do you only leave them up for a short time to avoid lawsuits or something? If so, how long? A specified amount of time, or until you get the Cease and Desist letter?
    : )

  3. Hey Cheekygeek – the Mp3s are only up for a limited time. Usually about two weeks. That’s always been the plan – partly to reward regular readers and give people an incentive to check back often! And partly because we don’t want to act like we’re running a copyright free library here. Fortunately we haven’t had any C&D letters yet as most of what we offer is out of print. And we’ve gotten permission for the few things that are currently available.

    If there are MP3s that have already expired that you’d like to see posted again in the future, just let us know. We take requests!

  4. Harriott is a favorite of mine, and his quintet albums must rank among the finest jazz (and not just Brit jazz) of the era–visionary, but not (at heart) in the American free jazz sense. Harriott was a (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic) conventionalist to a degree far beyond that of Ornette’s more famous work. It’s arguable, at least, that Joe’s most pioneering contributions were in the way of a liberated group dynamic–must be (part of) why Mingus dug him. I’m just happy that he’s here for listening (kudos).

  5. Thirty five years after his tragic death, it would appear Joe is finally getting the acclaim for his remarkable “Freeform” album that created such hostility in the gray UK jazz enviroment of the very early sixties. The irony of this remarkable set is that it pushed him into a financial and creative cul de sac because it was at odds with the prevailing trend at the time. Almost fifty years later, “trad jazz” is as dead as the genre whereas “Freeform” has just been reissued to massive acclaim, and an hugh listening audience which eluded him at the time of its’ original release.
    The jazz gods must be smiling…..

  6. Music News, » World Party