Sunday, 31 March 2013

A Passage to India

The best part of writing this blog - besides the joy of sharing fabulous music - is discovering new albums for myself in the process of researching an artist or record.  For example, I was under the impression that The Joe Harriott Double Quintet had only recorded one East-meets-West hybrid album, Indo-Jazz Suites. Then just this morning I gleefully stumbled upon two ensuing sides: Indo Fusions and Indo Fusions II. Easter eggs for all!

The original date for Columbia, as the ensemble's name suggests, pairs five musicians from each of the disciplines represented, the jazz quintet under the direction of Joe Harriott and the Indian quintet led by John Mayer. (Not that John Mayer. The Hindustani classical composer). The liner notes devote extensive copy to explaining the rhythmical structures and unique ascending and descending scalar melodies of Indian ragas, while touching upon their modal counterparts in Western music. Here one is reminded of the introductory lessons provided by Ravi Shankar on The Sounds of India.

Given the complex and technical parallels, as well as outright dissimilarities, between ragas and jazz, much of the four track album is scored and orchestrated in a Gil Evans or Henry Mancini fashion to ensure common ground for the players, with improvisation open predominantly to European avant-garde alto saxphonist Harriott and classical sitar player Diwan Motihar. As harmonies are uncommon in Indian music, the other western instruments including Pat Smythe's piano are often rhythmically vamping along to Coleridge Goode's* walking bass lines, as the tambura's drone propels the music hypnotically forward, producing one seriously grooving session. And when someone does break rank to solo it's outright electric. The liner notes pointedly applaud Chris Taylor's flute, which fluidly moves between both musical idioms as an emissary of good will, but equally as engaging is the foreign exchange of western violin and harpsichord, here employed to emulate the sitar.

The resulting album is a confluence of hip 1960s styles that would perfectly score a Blake Edwards film featuring Hrundi V. Bakshi from The Party in a freaky-friday swap with Jacques Clouseau from The Pink Panther.

As I said, I only recently learned of the two subsequent albums, so I'm not in a position to comment on them specifically. But I've included selections below anyway for our mutual delight. I will, however, superficially observe that several of tracks on the later albums are significantly longer than those of the original outing, thus more in keeping with the extended form common to ragas.


The Joe Harriott Double Quintet - Indo-Jazz Suites, Columbia, 1966

Discogs: Indo-Jazz Suites



"Raga Megha"

The Joe Harriott Double Quintet - Jazz Fusions, EMI Columbia, 1967

Discogs: Jazz Fusions




The Joe Harriott Double Quintet - Jazz Fusions II, EMI Columbia, 1968

Discogs: Jazz Fusions II

"Song Before Sunrise"

"Raga Piloo"

"Mishra Blues"

* Discogs attributes the bass playing on Indo-Jazz Suite to Rick Laird but the liner notes list Coleridge Goode, who also appears on the subsequent albums, as per Discogs.

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