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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Harry Miller's Isipingo Full Steam Ahead

There they blow....

Full Steam Ahead
Harry Miller’s Isipingo
Reel Recordings

Aside from being a devilishly gifted bassist gracing numerous line-ups on the UK jazz and improvised music scene, Harry Miller also ran his own top-flight quintet,Isipingo. Named after a beach in his native South Africa, their Family Affair album from 1977 showed his affection for straight-ahead grooves and take-no-prisoners blowing.

In some respects, the album was something of a staid affair in comparison to what the group acheived in concert. Cuneiform’s live album, Which Way Now, (taken from a 1975 Radio Bremen recording) showed a strident and adventurous spirit with everything taken at breakneck speed.

That said, these previously unreleased studio recordings (and one live cut) show a gathering that were just as capable of going from 0 - 100 miles per hour in about five seconds flat.

Every now and then, it skids about in an alarming fashion. On the live track, Dancing Damon, the melody line is taken so quickly it’s a bit like watching the Keystone Cops trying to hold on to the wagon, as the horn section of Mark Charig, Paul Nieman and Mike Osborne career precariously around the tune.

Though lacking subtlety at times, it’s the heat and passion of the group that wins over hearts and minds. Keith Tippett’s freewheeling solo on Family Affair hurls a myriad of rhythmic and melodic choices into the air and somehow he manages to catch them all.

Stan Tracey is a surprise guest on two tracks dating from 1975, prodding away on Whey Hey - a tune that fans of Miller’s In Conference release will recognise as the joyous bop theme, New Baby, recorded three years later. Fans of original Isipingo trumpeter Mongezi Feza also have cause to celebrate following his typically expressive contributions to these pieces.

Louis Moholo’s fevered drumming is a delight throughout and of course Isipingo stalwart, Mike Osborne reminds us that hear him play sax (his solo on Family Affair will put your jaw on the floor) was to hear someone rearranging the fabric of time and space.

Top notch sound quality and a fond sleeve note from Harry widow and Ogun Records co-founder, Hazel Miller, make this exemplary package from Reel Recordings a must-have addition for any fan of the UK jazz scene at the peak of its explosive power.


Owen said...


I too love Isipingo so much more now that these archive releases have seen the light of day. The official studio album is lacking in comparison (and the out of tune piano on that session doesn't help either).

But there's another Harry Miller studio session that I'm very keen to see released, a BBC date for his quintet from 1977 with Keith Tippett replaced by guitarist Berni Holland! To hear the rapid lines of "Orange Groove" (the only track I've heard from this date) played on only six strings is an amazing thing indeed!

Hopefully somebody like Reel will soon dig up the entire session for release. With the current continuing Blue Notes family fiesta surely the time must be right! Fingers crossed.


Sid Smith said...

I used to love the studio album but I agree with you about it being left behind somewhat with the emergence of these archive recordings.

Never heard tell of the Bernie Holland recording. Blimey - those line-ups were so fluid.

joesh said...

Just to chip in...! I'm not sure which Isipingo recordings you're talking about, but the only one available was 'Family Affair'. This is not a studio recording, but a live recording, which may explain the piano. I don't have the LP in my hands (maybe I should go and dig it out), but if memory serves me well it was recorded at the Battersea Arts centre.

Lastly, if you I seem to remember several Isipingo bootleg recordings. One which is well worthwhile hunting down is the 100 club one, very aggressive stuff. There's also - since I'm writing this in 2014 - the new basement tapes of "Different Times, Different Places", which is more 'excellent' live material...and reviewed on Sid's blog elsewhere!

Hope that's of use!

Best - Joe


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