Harry Miller

The Collection

  • AllMusic Rating
    8
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

South African bassist Harry Miller was a mainstay of countless British and European ensembles from his arrival in England in 1961 to his tragic death in an auto accident in 1983. His music ranged from rhythmic, African-inflected township jazz to abstract free improvisation to recorded appearances with King Crimson (his beautiful arco passage begins their Islands album). The Collection is a complete reissue on three CDs of all the recordings released under his name, four on Ogun, one originally on Vara Jazz. Each inner sleeve reproduces the original front and back covers of the LPs, and a 28-page booklet of photos and reminiscences by friends and musicians is included. The Collection begins with Children at Play, a 1974 solo recording wherein Miller augments his bass with passages for flute and percussion. It covers ground from childlike songs to prickly bursts of improvisation, but Miller's underlying warmth of tone acts as a cohering force, reining things in when they threaten to become overly unfocussed and supplying depth to the most innocent strummings. Miller led a sextet called Isipingo and their release, Family Affair, is the highlight of this collection and simply a spectacular recording. Featuring trumpeter Mark Charig (also a popular King Crimson associate), altoist Mike Osborne, and trombonist Malcolm Griffiths in the front line and a rhythm section of Miller, Keith Tippett, and the great Louis Moholo, this album stands alongside Moholo's Spirits Rejoice! and Dudu Pukwana's In the Townships as a stellar example of the merging of South African and free jazz styles. There's fine, passionate playing throughout, striking a balance between anthemic melodies, propulsive rhythms and unfettered solos. The reappearance of this session alone makes The Collection a must-have. Bracknell Breakdown finds Miller live with trombonist Radu Malfatti, offering the most abstract music of the compilation. Interestingly, Malfatti appears to be already interested in the extremely quiet end of the free improv spectrum, an avenue he would explore in much greater depth in the '90s. Miller seems somewhat less at ease in this sort of environment, where he apparently felt constrained from allowing his earthy melodicism to flower, but the push-pull tensions generated still hold one's interest. The group assembled for In Conference resembles Isipingo in character, with that front line being replaced by Willem Breuker and Trevor Watts on reeds and vocalist Julie Tippetts, but the music has a more European, less South African cast to it, with the exception of "Orange Grove," which contains overt township references. Tippetts' wordless vocalizing on "New Baby" is a highlight here, and the entire session is solid, if not quite as joyful as Family Affair. The final session, one of Miller's last, is a quintet date with the erstwhile Charig joined by another South African ex-pat, saxophonist Sean Bergin and Dutch cut-ups Wolter Wierbos and the irrepressible Han Bennink. It's a rollicking affair with much similarity to the other group recordings here plus some additional inspired lunacy; Bennink's rocking out on "Schooldays" alone is worth the price of admission. The Collection is an altogether wonderful mini-summary of a strong musician's career, as well as a neat encapsulation of the fascinating nexus between British free jazz and South African music. Highly recommended.

blue highlight denotes track pick