Harry Miller

Different Times, Different Places
Ogun OGCD 041

Via flamboyant performances from 1973 and 1976, Different Times, Different Places celebrates a particularly fertile period in British Free Jazz by unearthing hitherto unissued performances by two top-flight combos under the leadership of bassist Harry Miller. Importantly, the CD also adds material to the catalogue of three players who have since died. South African-born Miller (1941-1983), killed in an auto accident in the Netherlands; alto saxophonist Mike Osborne (1941-2007), whose mental illness prevented him from playing after the early 1980s; and pianist Chris McGregor (1936-1990), another South African, whose London-based Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) big band was a meeting ground for advanced African and European jazzers.

But the seven-tune CD is a lot more than just historically important. These quintet and sextet tracks capture musicians working out their own variants of Free Jazz, Freebop and Free Music, with the ensembles also featuring drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo on all tracks; trombonist Nick Evans in 1973; plus trumpeter Marc Charig, trombonists Malcolm Griffiths and pianist Keith Tippett on board for the 1976 sessions

A variant of Miller’s Isipingo group, the 1973 performances feature Miller’s upfront and solid thumping in the rhythm section context, as the attractive tunes are animated by the front line. Evans’ thickened slurs and blends make their points, but the swaying themes so depend on McGregor-Osborne intersection that at points they recall Horace Tapscott’s combo of the time with Arthur Blythe. Exultant and extended, the Miller compositions seem, tailor-made for Osborne’s yearning post-bop reed bites, yet are conventional enough to usually regroup and recap the head. “Touch Hungry” is the only Africanized line, mixed with Boppy riffing from the horns, especially Osborne. It also features a slithering, high energy solo from McGregor, whose lively, cross-pulsed atonality relates as much to Cecil Taylor as the African veldt.

When “Touch Hungry” reappears three years later played by the larger ensemble though, it has become funkier and Jazzier. Thickening his tone to tenor-timbre, Osborne’s approach is now rougher and more splintered, as if Eric Dolphy had recorded on a larger horn than the alto. Charig fits the same mould, at points flutter-tonguing and note cracking and at others aiming for Maynard Ferguson, high-pitched territory. This exhilarating brass approach also pays off on “Mofolo”, which is both anthematic and African-sounding. Burnishing his trumpet parts with an electric Miles Davis-like orientation, Charig’s work is countered by Osborne’s outside split tones and staccato double-tonguing. Meanwhile Miller and Tippett comp sympathetically, although the convulsive motions of “Something like This” set off their skills in more dramatic manner. The bassist commands with heavy-gauge string hits, while the pianist scatters around high-pitched, tremolo cadenzas.

Finally there’s “Eli’s Song”, 1976’s longest and most nearly claustrophobic tune. The density is again propelled by Miller’s thick, solid walking, although Tippett’s right-handed patterning succeeds in adding some levity. Osborne’s solo here is also his most atonal, with elongated split tones, snorts, spits and some forays into circular breathing, while the brass section’s tonguing congeals enough to organize a group finale.

Overall this CD is a fitting memorial for Miller and a literal record of music that can’t ever be heard again.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Bloomfield 2. Quandary 3. Touch Hungry 4. Mofolo* 5. Something Like This* 6. Touch Hungry* 7. Eli’s Song*

Personnel: Marc Charig (trumpet)*; Nick Evans+ or Malcolm Griffiths* (trombone); Mike Osborne (alto saxophone); Chris McGregor+ or Keith Tippett* (piano); Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo-Moholo (drums)