So, Eddie Harris asserted himself early (his first album surfacing in 61) as a band leader & composer, playing sax, keys & vocals. The tenure of his that are the focus of this garble comes in the very late 60’s, when Harris started to transmute from Bop to spectrums of Funk, Fusion, Soul & very importantly – Free Jazz, without discarding his bop groundings. Nothing wrong with his derivations, & the earlier epoch, but the major excitement for me comes from when he started to effuse the new found multiplicity head-on & load more & more humour, mischief & cross-curricular dynamism in his music. The first album I picked-up from Eddie was 1969’s Free Speech. I had been goaded into this perspication after the tang of ruptured-buds from delightfully nutty bassist Melvin Jacksons-‘Funky Skull’ LP that had a lick from Harris, yes, -the sublime ‘Silver Cycles’ that conduced much curiosity towards the author (Fielder also frequently sat-in as Eddies bassist for a series of years). The UK being such a shit-sty for music, I had to get his LP online & have it shipped to a safe-house in the US, to be snatched-up on the next studio-recording foray beyond the Atlantic, thus avoiding flagrantly extortionate (& ultimately impossible/preventative) international postal rates that have become so exorbitant, they make a debtor piss-their-pouch. I was flashing the cache to Roscoe Mitchell when the Free Speech LP swerved-out… – ‘that’s a bad motherfucker’ was the ol’ coots immediate response. Well chuck…i don’t think you can get a better endorsement than that. & as true as the quills jut from the cactus & flies lay their brood on the carrion, bleaching black in the screaming summer heat & stanking’ like the White House shit-entourage, this was one hell of an LP & one hell of an introduction into the world of mf E. Harris! Now, where to start? as the merits are numerous… comprehensive & brevitous – Harris was a dope sax player! Not just technically proficient, but huge geet’ trawler loads of character & a stellar lyricism that left resounding mirth. Next – he is widely acknowledged as being singularly revolutionary/innovative with FX-pedals & electronic modifications to his saxophone (& voice) before anyone else was performing such maverick flippings of scripts. thirdly – Harris had a huge sense of humour & a regular custom of pasquinade & joyful ridicule & jokery that would inhabit his records. This became so substantial that it resulted in the somewhat notorious “The Reason I’m Talkin’ Shit” LP from 75, which had Eddie yacking more garbage than it did him playing his horn (there is a considerable flow of theory that this LP sparked Eddies decline career wise).
His cavalier humour, innuendo & cartoony piss-takery were almost as endearing as his music, & became just yet another attraction to his hyper-playful presentation & performance. Most commonly associated with hard-bop or/& quality-mainstream Jazz-Soul-Funk once he rolls into the 70’s era, the general consensus largely overlooks that Eddie massively challenged the genre/acceptable status/mode by throwing in & fornicating with skitz Free-Jazz, sax screel, & wild turbulent shit that was absolutely not encouraged or even accepted in the kind of ambit he was striding. He played with a fair-few AACM cats such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Jodie Christian & the aforementioned Melvin Jackson (& no doubt more) & it’s resoundingly evident that he paid close attention & took great inspiration from the AACM crew, who of course were fellow black Chicago Jazz musicians setting a president. Further more, & although not conjured with too much regularity, he enjoyed devising unorthodox chronology out-side of the four-four standard, as well as dabbling in contrapuntal & arrhythmic patterns & constructions. This can be heard to great effect on cuts like Ten Minutes To Four (a blindingly cult slab of irregular funk that busts the wheels off the wagon) & songs such as Carnival. This is a difficult equilibrium to finesse, as both camps are easily perturbed by the polarities (challenging, absonant, intricate vs danceable, orthodox, manageable, commercial). Harris undergoes an amazingly adept manipulation of dichotomies, & to even greater merit – creates separate, differentiating motleys with these forms on an ongoing sliding scale of shifting gradients. He maintained that, to great effect, over basically every album from the late 60’s to the notorious ‘Talking Shit’ album in 75 (that’s about 13 LP’s by my count). & it’s this rich repository of ribald, super astute, strikingly diverse & tight gallimaufry that I find so much inspiration & pleasure in. On every LP, there’s always at the very least, one outstanding cut. His sessions become marvelously unpredictable, but also reliable for delivering the opals at optimum. The level of experience-steeped experimentalism & dynamic-inventism expose an extremely bold & imaginative explorer, who, given the fuckin’ chance, will trudge through undiscovered regions & lead new trails into un-entered undergrowth. I wonder, how much material may be sitting around that was perhaps ‘rejected’ as too far-out/uncommercial/skitz from Eddies many studio sessions (which is probably totally off-the-hook)? His use of mad-synthesizers & early drum-machines are another bulging-boon to the Eddie narrative.
& so, it would appear that Harris started to derail & burn-out around The Reason I’m Still Talkin’ Shit joint (he would later relaunch again, returning apparently to his Bop with vigour). The Talkin’ Shit’ LP is awful, hilarious & cult, with Eddie doing mostly gutter-mouth, stand-up trash-talk. I have yet to catch-up with his last LP’s before he lost major label backing & his commencing ‘official’ decline & subsequent Bop renewal, but the last one’s title may sum-up the context – “I’m Tired Of Driving”!
With such a wealth of refulgence, it’s very difficult to isolate favoured releases by Harris, & all of his 70’s material is worth attention, but quantity wise – Excursions, Free Speech & Eddie Harris Sings the Blues stand-apart for me.
A visionary, a path-beater & an utter class act.
( some of the excerpt sound is ropy as a bell-boy with trailing intestines. this ain’t no ordained office shit yus? – my cables are flayed, my system waterlogged, my vaults empty, & my needle substituted with dish-washer components, so don’t expect no crumpets & cream!!)