Rejoice! For at long last, Polygram have begun to reissue the wonderful Joe Harriott Quintet recordings which have been slumbering in their vaults for many moons. First into the daylight are two of the Harriott Quintet's collaborators with John Mayer's Indian quintet , Indo-Jazz Fusions (1967) and Indo-Jazz Fusions II (1968), here squeezed onto the one CD. Happily the excellent original sleevenotes by Max Harrison and Ian Carr have been preserved, alongside new notes by Mayer, which paranthetically reveal that Indo-Jazz Suite (1966) the Double Quintet's debut will also be reissued.
Calcutta born composer and violinist John Mayer was introduced to London based Jamaican saxophonist Joe Harriott by producer Denis Preston at the latter Lansdowne studios in 1965. Mayer had previously composed orchestral works combining Indian scalar forms and western (ancient Greek) modes which incorporated Indian instruments, but Indo-Jazz Suite was his first attempt at blending classical Indian music with jazz.
Mayer's Indo-Jazz was not a new idea, however. In the late 50's, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy were prominent among US musicians looking to Indian music to invigorate and expand a jazz language stagnating on chord based procedures. Both saxophonists were influenced by renowned sitarist Ravi Shankar, and the earliest most relevant forerunner to Mayer-Harriott , though probvably not a direct influence , was Shankar's 1961 group (see Improvisations) which featured Indian instrumentalists alongside US jazz musicians, including Bud Shank, Gary Peacock, Denis Buddimere and Louis Hayes, later, US trumpeter Don Ellis co-led The Hindustani Jazz Sextet with Harihar Rao. So, by the mid-60's Indo-jazz was certainly in the air (as was Indo-pop, thanks to George Harrison), though by no means a mainstream phenomenon, or as commercialy viable as its popular successor, World Music.
From the outset, Mayer's organisational dexterity was the guiding force, he established the structural frameworks within which both Indian and jazz musicians interacted, improvising on scales (ragas) over rhythmic patterns (talas). According to Mayer, the jazzers initially had difficulty "in restricting their melodic flair to the somewhat strict discipline of the raga notes". If 'Indo-Jazz Suite' at times sounds stiffily executed, by 'Indo-Jazz Fusions' such problems have been largely overcome and a fascinating integration of idioms is being achieved. Keshav Sathe's tabla, Coleridge Goode's double bass and Allan Ganley's understated drums provide 'Partita', the longest and finest piece at 17 mniutes, with an impressive swinging, pulsating rhythm section, while the tricky thematic phrases rebound beautifully between Harriott's alto sax, Shake Keane's trumpet and Chris Taylor's flute. The final final few minutes see some marvellous collective activity as Pat Smythe's piano and Diwan Motihar's sitar add to the contrapuntal complexity. TV addicts will instantly recognise 'Acka Raga', with its catchy sitar theme and rubbery bass pizzicato, as the signature tune to the BBC's long departed quiz show, Ask The Family, whereas freeform afficiandos may find 'Subject', stripped of its exciting eruptive dissonances, too genial in this Indo-jazz arrangement.
The Double Quintet's last recording , Indo-Jazz Fusions II, attains an even higher level of idiomatic and ensemble integration. Chris Taylor's flute playing the finest example here of how the vigour of jazz could be fused with the exotic timbres of Indian music. Solo's are kept short but achieve an emotional impact - Harriott's ardent tone hits the mark every time, and an elegant Kenny Wheeler also shines. 'Raga Piloo' is never less than compelling. 'Song Before Sunrise' pre-echoes ECM's atmospheric, satial World jazz, and the closing tutti in 'Purvi Variations' , after Smythe's delightful solo, is pure ensemble magic, sadly curtailed by a premature fade. Classic ethnic jazz. Reissue of the year.
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