Since his untimely death in a car crash in the Netherlands in 1983, South African bassist Harry Miller, who began his career with Manfred Mann before becoming a mainstay of the UK avant-jazz scene (along with a number of South African expatriates) has been the subject of several posthumous collections of his work, many of them outstanding. Here's yet another.
Seven tracks with three different ensembles, recorded in 1977, 1978 and 1982. The opener is arguably the highlight of this collection, Miller's "Orange Grove", an oft-recorded piece heard here as performed by a quintet with Trevor Watts and Alan Wakeman on alto and tenor saxes, Bernie Holland on guitar, Miller on bass and Louis Moholo-Moholo on drums. A driving, infectious song, reminiscent of some of Dudu Pukwana's compositions, it maintains an irresistible, propulsive force that serves as a natural springboard for some vivid solos from the saxophonists and a ripping one from Holland (a guitarist who seems to have been rarely recorded; a shame judging from this performance).
For the next three tracks, "Miss Liz", "The Magician" and "Door Key", Holland is replaced by pianist Keith Tippett. The first isn't so dissimilar from "Orange Grove", another driving, dancing work supporting buoyant, steaming sax solos (one of them — Watts? — apparently playing two at once á la Kirk) and a brief but typically scintillating foray from Tippett. The piece segues into the more languorous, lush "The Magician", giving Tippett a more expansive role and "Door Key" shifts mood once again, a light martial beat supporting sinuous reed lines and imparting a kind of Breuker-ish feeling (Breuker also worked with Miller).
The final grouping includes Alan Tomlinson on trombone and Dave Holdsworth on trumpet along with Watts, Miller and Moholo-Moholo. "Down South", another regular in Miller's repertoire, is a delightfully bouncy, swirling number, the brass lending a kind of village band feel while the musicians stretch their solos into more abstract territory, forming a fine balance between free and traditional. Once again, the middle track of the set slows things down, here with the gorgeous, dirge-like "Ikaya", another piece benefiting greatly from the harmonized brass; listeners fond of Moholo-Moholo's brilliant Spirits Rejoice! from 1978, will enjoy this a great deal, particularly Tomlinson's spare solo over Miller's resonant bass. The disc closes with another jaunty, township-inspired work, "Mofolo", more a group conversation vehicle than one for solos, sort of a modern South African take on old-time New Orleans ensembles, quite delightful.
The collection is excellent, a joy throughout, with imaginative, exuberant playing on the part of all concerned. Miller left us far, far too soon but it's great to have this music around to remind us of what we missed.
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