28 October 2007
JOHN MAYER / JOE HARRIOTT - INDO JAZZ SUITE
Joe Harriott and John Mayer for Lansdowne from 1968.
Here's a write up from Jazz-Groove.com
Let me quote from Charles Fox’s splendid sleeve notes from the first LP, Indo-Jazz Suite…
“…There were problems to be faced in bringing the two kinds of music - jazz and Indian - into such close proximity. John Mayer, an Indian composer who came to Britain from Calcutta in 1952, had previously written several concert works which link Indian scalar forms and rhythms with Western modes, and these have been performed by various European orchestras and soloists. But this was his first attempt at fusion with jazz musicians. Joe Harriott, already famous as one of the most adventurous jazz musicians in Europe, responded nobly to the challenge. Indeed, it is likely that his work here is some of the finest he has ever put on record…”
And Fox is right, but the meeting of Mayer and Harriott did not come about, as these things should, because someone realised it had to happen, but because of a set of frustrating circumstances for Mayer, and of being in the right place at the right time for Harriott. Alan Robertson explains all of this in his splendid biography of Harriott, Joe Harriott: Fire In His Soul, where he recalls that after Mayer had tried unsuccessfully to interest producer Denis Preston at EMI Records (Preston’s secretary had told Mayer to stop calling as her boss was far too busy to talk to him) in the idea of a fusion between Eastern and Western music he, six months after being told to get lost, received a communication from Preston asking if he had a short piece in a jazz idiom, and although Mayer hadn‘t…
“…he seized the opportunity and said yes. To Mayer’s dismay, Preston announced he intended to record it the following day. Mayer had to lose a night’s sleep to compose a suitable piece in time. The following day, bleary-eyed, he attended the recording of his new composition, ‘Nine for Bacon’, at Lansdowne Studios. The session featured such prominent musicians as Don Lusher, Kenny Baker and Humphrey Littleton. Mayer remarked happily, ‘I got £20. It was a hell of a lot of money in those days.’ Worth losing a night’s sleep for.”
As Robertson goes on to write ‘Nine for Bacon’ “…with its combination of jazz and Indian influences, favourably impressed Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records in New York when Preston played him the recording. Ertegun suggested the idea of an album blending Indian music and jazz and using jazz musicians alongside Indian instrumentalists in an integrated group.”
Then, three months after the recording, Mayer received a letter from Preston asking Mayer to call on him. When the very nervous Mayer was finally ushered into the producer’s office he initially thought Preston was going to ask for the money back until, “…without any sense of irony he [Preston] announced: ‘We have had this idea…’
Mayer played along, which was wise because Preston then introduced the composer to Joe Harriott, whose three previous albums, Joe Harriott With Strings, Free Form, and Abstract, had been produced by Preston. The two musicians hit it off immediately (and Harriott was a difficult man to get on with), and within a month Mayer had finished writing the music for the first Indo-Jazz Fusion LP, and the rest as they say is jazz history, but a history that, in the melodic, but very free, playing of Harriott stands out as a beacon of wonderful music that, forty years on, still comes across as fresh and hugely inventive.
I remember, back in Birmingham in 1968, listening to the group as they played an evening raga (a bihag) as the sun began to set and Mayer’s violin coasted along with the sitar of Diwan Motihar just before Alan Ganley, on drums, kicked in with a three-four and Harriott soared away with a solo that lasted just long enough for me to miss the last train home.
320 rip from the deleted cd reissue.