Recent listening, current

Thursday, February 21, 2013

40. Joe Harriott / Cool Jazz with Joe (1954)

Harriott is a shady figure in American jazz circles, unknown except to the most academically inclined fans of post-bop, or attentive listeners of the avant-garde and free jazz a bit later. Harriott, a British alto by way of Kingston, Jamaica, could do both. In straight ahead mode, he played with dazzling fluidity and a laid back, bluesy sensibility, combining Birdlike flights into the upper register with dancing snatches of melody that walked down again in idiosyncratic syncopations immediately recalling those of a mento band. When I listen to this early EP, I hear licks that I've never heard anyone else do. Here he plays four standards with his working group, including the equally talented but no less obscure pianist, Dill Jones. While a cursory glance at the liner seems to fulfill the lie that British jazz musicians would forever emulate their American counterparts, Harriott forges ahead with a deftly original set that begs you to reconsider. Fractions of a second behind the beat a bit like Hank Mobley would later do, Harriott is a stylist whose impact one can only speculate upon, had he been based in New York, and not London. The opener "April in Paris" has bold melodic statements from Harriott who occasionally emphasizes another, more danceable rhythm he sees lurking just below the surface, accentuating the relationship with figures of repeated notes, catching the attention of drummer Phil Seamen in the process. "Out of Nowhere" sees Harriott treating us again with Caribbean inclinations. The evocative "Summertime" features some moody work by Dill Jones, and the ubiquitous "Cherokee" frames Harriott's chops in the quintessential bebop composition. This EP is out of print, but is available (along with a herd of others) from the good people of the BritJazz blog. Please pay them a visit for the download link, and drop them a line to say thanks while you're at it.

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