Joe Harriott Quintet - Free Form

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Gott CD063 *****
Harriott (as), Shake Keane (t, fl), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b) and Phil Seamen (d). Rec. 1960
Joe Harriott Quintet - Free Form
One of the great jazz albums of the last five decades also has one of the great sleeves. On the front there is an idiosyncratic construct of tree trunk, open shelf and figurines of various sizes and colours while the back sports an ink motif of riotous invention. The images are meaningful. They stand as a metaphor for the constant union of seemingly disparate creative elements that nonetheless cohere. In fact, the stylistic ground covered in the piece ‘Coda’ alone stands as an ambitious integration of idioms from outside as well as within jazz; fleeting classical motifs; a snatch of Caribbean folk melody; an understated bop progression; a modal ostinato. All of which is presented in a tempo that stretches like the elastic in a young rascal’s catapult. This extreme flexibility with the speed and weight of the music is another enormous part of its appeal. The band sound gets thinner and fatter from one chapter of a composition to the next, the breathing and heartbeat of the score increasing and decreasing as the thin man-fat man ensemble negotiates a harmonic spiral staircase. Although the frontline of Harriott, Keane and Smythe is mesmerising in its rhythmic-melodic gymnastics, the multiplicity of accent and attack provided by drums and bassmeisters Seamen and Goode is no less important. The former’s use of mid-range toms to create an almost rock ’n’ roll effect on some pieces is yet another sound of surprise, an astutely “exotic” ingredient thrown into the bouillabaisse. Then again Free Form is quintessentially about a musical dish in which the large number of spices is somehow calibrated so as to not overwhelm the palette. Harriott conceived this music as polyphony and metamorphosis yet it is also precise structure and tightly gripped manipulation of idea. One can theorise limitlessly about parallels between Harriott and Ornette Coleman but at the end of the day it is the presence of both Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman that frames this work. It’s all in the title; it’s not free music but free form music that has evolutionary, liberating DNA, a score that unfetters improvisation without losing its galloping shape. Look at the sleeve again, the construct is multi-faceted but it’s standing straight.

Kevin Le Gendre

This review is from Jazzwise Issue #113 to our full section and receive a Free CD Subscribe Here...