Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Joe Harriott & Tubby Hayes: Two Aces

Saxophone blasting beacons of British jazz, alto ace Joe Harriott and tenor titan Tubby Hayes recorded far too few studio sessions as leaders in their tragically short lives – both of which  coincidentally ended in 1973 with Harriott dying of cancer at 44 and Hayes five months later while undergoing heart surgery at just 38 – so the recent surfacing of brilliant live recordings by each at their peak from the BBC's Jazz For Moderns transcription series is cause for celebration.
When Harriott turned up at St. Hilda's Studios in Maida Vaile back in 1962, it was in the company of his classic quintet with Shake Keane (trumpet, flugelhorn), Coleridge Goode (bass), Pat Smythe (piano) and replacing Phil Seaman, the great Bobby Orr (the drummer, not the celebrated Bruins defenceman) who had recorded the fantastic Abstract album a few months earlier which would deservedly receive a glowing five-star review in Down Beat from my pal Harvey Pekar, the first-ever British jazz recording to be so honoured.

As Pekar astutely noted, there were significant conceptual differences between Harriott's "free form" approach and that of Ornette Coleman, the most obvious being that Harriott was pursuing a true group improvisation where each member was playing off the others whereas Coleman was still tethered to the steady pulse of a bebop-style rhythm section. And that comes across on the Joe Harriott Quintet's Jazz For Moderns (Gearbox) LP, primarily with the tracks Pictures and Tonal, the two Harriott compositions drawn from Abstract, which are nicely contrasted by the inclusion of their takes of Dizzy Reece hard bop thrillers Shepherd's Serenade (from 1958's Blues In Trinity) and Variations on Monk (from 1959's Star Bright).
Since Harriott's other important recordings from the period, 1963's Movement and 1964's High Spirits along with 1969's Hum Dono (a stellar collaboration with late Goan guitar great Amancio D'Silva) remain frustratingly out of print, Gearbox's limited-run 180 gram vinyl edition of the Jazz For Moderns set is all the more welcome.
Likewise with their simultaneously released Tubby Hayes Band Jazz For Moderns LP finds the hugely talented saxophonist/vibraphonist showing off his compositional chops at St. Hilda's in the company of trumpeters Jimmy Deuchar, Bobby Pratt and Eddie Blair, trombonists Keith Christie and Ken Wray, Alan Civil on French horn, alto saxophonist Johnny Scott, tenor saxophonists Bob Efford and Vic Ash, baritone saxophonist Harry Klein, David Snell on harp, pianist Gordon Beck, bassist Freddy Logan and drummer Allan Ganley.
Serious Tubbs-ophiles will note that that it's the exact same line-up which accompanied Hayes for the BBC Jazz Session set two months prior and they're also playing the same five-song program: Take You're Partners For The Blues, Souriya, Down In The Village, Early Morning Afterthoughts and the gentle Horace Silver ballad Peace (off 1959's Blowin' The Blues Away).

However the performance isn't at all a note-for-note recreation, more like a deeper exploration of now familiar themes which should become clear when you hear the way Hayes gets into his soulful ballad Souriya at the end of the first side. The jazz dance crowd will have their interest piqued by the inclusion of Down In The Village and this swinging version of the Hayes vibes feature doesn't disappoint. The classy sleeve art in period-appropriate designs and informed liner notes (Simon Spillett, who's currently working on a Tubby Hayes biography tentatively titled The Long Shadow Of The Little Giant, contributes a thoughtful and well-researched essay to the Hayes LP) make for better than average reissue packages but evidently Gearbox pressed up only 500 copies of each title on vinyl so it might be wise to visit Dusty Groove (www.dustygroove.com) on the double before they're gone for good. Mind you, they're not cheap but worth every penny.
For further reading on Joe Harriott, check out Alan Robertson's excellent biography Joe Harriott: Fire In His Soul (Northway Books) from 2003 and the Coleridge Goode reminiscence Bass Lines: A Life In Jazz also published by Northway Books in 2002.

Gearbox Records http://gearboxrecords.com
Simon Spillett on Tubby Hayes http://www.jazzscript.co.uk/extra/art.hayes.html
Northway Books http://www.northwaybooks.net/

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