Rediscoveries of Lost Gems- Eddie Harris- Free Speech
Eddie Harris- Free Speech
[Atlantic Records, 1970]
Many moons ago, I wrote an in-depth feature on Eddie Harris and his pioneering use of the varitone saxophone on the now defunct blog Ear Fuzz. Today's edition of Rediscoveries of Lost Gems will focus on Eddie's oft-overlooked LP called Free Speech. In the canon of jazz, and specifically in Eddie's discography, this album was never fully appreciated when it was first pressed in 1970. In a sense, Eddie Harris was an anomaly in the world of jazz, always looking for what's next while the rest of the jazz scene was struggling to keep up with him. He could have very easily stuck with the tried and true soul jazz sound that got him noticed, but instead he chose the road less traveled filled with potholes, bumps and dead-ends.
The opening cut "Wait Please," starts out unassumingly enough with a slow drum and bass groove accompanying the intoxicating sound of Harris's Varitone sax. In fact, the title is apropo, as he is imploring the listener to be patient for the song to really get going. At around the five minute mark, the pace of the song speeds up considerably while the sound of the saxophone gets increasingly distorted until it's run through an echoplex that sounds like a flurry of saxes are being played simultaneously while eventually being swept up in a windstorm. He takes a well-deserved smoke break during the next track, leaving it up to the band to play a pretty straight forward tribute to Bossa Nova on the cheekily titled "Boogie Woogie Bossa Nova". With the aggressive, upbeat "Penthology," Harris pretty much dominates the first half of the track with a manic Varitone solo laid over a hard bop jazz rhythm section.
On the second half of the record, more surprises are lurking around the corner. With "Bold and Black" patiently waiting in the wings, you would think that it would come out of the gates with a certain intensity. Instead, it features more of a mid-tempo traditional jazz sound until the Varitone takes over at the two-minute mark. As the solo really starts cooking, the rhythm section matches Harris note for note, not pulling any punches whatsoever. The next track, "The Things You Do" is so mellow and slow it makes some of the songs on Mile Davis's In A Silent Way seem like frenetic workouts in comparison. Continuing the recurring theme, the title track of this record starts out relatively slow, and then builds into a frenzied ball of energy with the saxophone almost sounding like a Korg synthesizer. After the first burst of sound, the song quiets down to a slight whisper at around the three and a half minute mark. Then, it slowly builds back up into a sound that most accurately represents The new Thing free jazz sound from the late 60's. There is plenty of great music on this record, so please don't hesitate to dig in accordingly.
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