He seemed to take every solo opportunity to create afresh…

JIB-27-M-EP (A Jazz in Britain EP)

Joe Harriott (alto saxophone); Les Condon (trumpet); Pat Smythe (piano); Coleridge Goode (bass); Phil Seaman (drums)

Recorded 24 August 1961

Joe Harriott has become a legend. His searing alto playing, his impatience with the conventional did not make his life easy. Harriott’s sound was unique it was a mixture of Charlie Parker and Earl Bostic with a freedom to soar at will. His struggle for complete acceptance meant a certain amount of compromise in the way that he presented his work to audiences. He frequently played one hour of more conventional material and one hour of avantgarde pieces. The context of 1961 meant that challenging jazz was greeted with either hostility or incomprehension.

‘Coda’ has an unusual rhythm. Les Condon skips through the theme. Condon, not always first choice in the Quintet, enjoys the chance to improvise freely and all the time he is underpinned by the drums of Phil Seaman. Pat Smythe, vastly underrated, solos with sensitivity and panache. Smythe’s solos are always unusual: he seemed to take every solo opportunity to create afresh.

There is an early live recording where Harriott tutors the audience about what the group were going to play. He made pieces sound more threatening than they were. ‘Calypso Sketches’ has more than Caribbean echoes. Harriott has an edgy solo touching just this side of wildness. It is difficult with a theme like this not to reference Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. Harriott, however feels more rooted and the abrasive piercing sound cuts through with an educated positivity. Seamen revels in the opportunity to display his Caribbean skills.

‘Compound’ was introduced on the ‘Abstract’ album where Seamen had assistance from Frank Holder on bongos. Here Seamen has the space to himself and shows why in the fifties and sixties he had such a high reputation. ‘Shepherd’s Serenade’ has a strong bop, New York, sensibility. Les Condon seems thoroughly happy with the theme and consequently this is his best solo on the disc. As usual, Pat Smythe finds inspiration which he transmutes into an intricate and wholly individual statement. The central solo is Harriott’s which has all the virtues that we have come to associate with him: seething, elemental, rhythmically daring, Coleridge Goode who anchored so many of Harriott’s compositions is very fine and solid without being too adventurous.

The overall concepts are daring, it is now over sixty years since this recording was made. At first Harriott was discussed as the UK Ornette. It was not a fair comparison. Ornette had an unswerving dedication to music as he saw it. Harriott had a much wider view: his free jazz was played at the same time that he played with Chris Barber, Sonny Boy Williamson, Laurie Johnson, George Chisholm.

Reviewed by Jack Kenny