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Jazz in Britain, Part 2

Jazz in Britain 2The first instalment of this two-part series dealt with new releases. This one looks at recent reissues and archive discoveries from the second half of the last century.

Harry South: The Songbook (Rhythm and Blues Records). Some readers of this blog will most readily associate the name of Harry South with the big-band arrangements for Sound Venture, the 1965 album with which Georgie Fame demonstrated his jazz chops. Others will know that South, a Londoner who died in 1990, aged 60, had a distinguished career as a pianist, bandleader and composer. This four-CD set, lovingly compiled by Nick Duckett and Simon Spillett, brings together a wealth of music from the mid-’50s onwards, much of it by South’s big band but also featuring him with the small groups of Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Ross, Joe Harriott and others. “Hall Hears the Blues”, a 14-minute down-tempo blues recorded for Tempo by Hayes’s quintet in 1956, is almost worth the price of admission by itself, as is the gorgeously swinging “Minor Incident” by the Dick Morrissey Quartet, from 1963. Of the wide range of big-band material, much of its previously unissued, I’d pick out an unnamed and undated piece (disc 3, track 15) which sounds like a lost Gil Evans chart, and “The Rainy Season”, from 1970, which shows South integrating exotic elements into his music very interestingly. Solos throughout, although individually unidentified, are by the likes of Kenny Wheeler and Tony Coe. There’s also the theme tune to The Sweeney, which presumably made South some money. Taken together, these 64 tracks represent an exemplary tribute to an unjustly neglected figure.

Mike Westbrook Concert Band: Marching Song (Turtle). Of all the many fine British modern jazz records made in the last 50 years, the ones that probably most deserve to survive another half-century are Mike Westbrook’s large-scale pieces, including Metropolis, Citadel/Room 315 and The Cortège. In a sense, Marching Song is where it all began: released in its entirety as two LPs on the Deram label in 1969, representing a statement of scale and intent. And of moral purpose, too: this is every bit as much a portrait of the pity and horror of war as Picasso’s Guernica, making a similarly startling use of modernist techniques. This reissue also contains a third disc of previously unheard material including a nine-minute sketch of the piece recorded in 1966 by a sextet including Mike Osborne, John Surman, Malcolm Griffiths, Harry Miller and Alan Jackson — its approach very heavily influenced by Mingus — and two wonderful extended quartet tracks by Osborne with the rhythm section, making this just about an essential purchase.

Neil Ardley / New Jazz Orchestra: On the Radio: BBC Sessions 1971 (BBC Records). Much of this album is taken up by six tracks from a Jazz Club session by the 19-piece NJO, conducted by the gifted Neil Ardley and including pieces by Mike Taylor, Barbara Thompson and Jack Bruce, with solos from Ian Carr, Harry Beckett, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Don Rendell and others. It’s good stuff. But the special interest comes in “The Time Flowers”, an extended piece written by Ardley and the electronic composer Keith Winter and recorded for Jazz in Britain with the quintet of Carr, Rendell, Frank Ricotti (vibes), Barry Guy (amplified bass) and Winter, plus the London Studio Strings. Inspired by a J. G. Ballard story, it evolves from a Vaughan Williamsesque pastorale into a futuristic soundscape, settings that provoke fine solos from Carr on flugelhorn and Rendell, unusually, on alto rather than soprano or tenor. The two broadcasts are introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton and Brian Priestley — another contrast of styles, to say the least…

Daryl Runswick: The Jazz Years (ASC Records). There were some pretty handy bass players on the London jazz scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and Daryl Runswick was up there with Jeff Clyne, Ron Mathewson, Harry Miller and others. He left the jazz world towards the end of the ’70s, preferring studio employment and regular work with Electric Phoenix, the King’s Singers and other ensembles. This two-CD set of mostly live recordings is a reminder of how good he was, whether in the London Jazz Quartet (with Jim Philip, Mike McNaught and Mike Travis, a really wonderful drummer) on extended versions of Jim Webb and Harry Nilsson songs or playing his own compositions in his quartet with the likes of Stan Sulzmann, Tony Hymas, Don Rendell, Alan Branscombe and Harold Fisher. There’s also a very funny solo bass-and-vocal recording, from a gig in 1967, of “The Song of the Double Bass Player”, with a lyric written for him by Clive James, a fellow member of the Cambridge Footlights: “It isn’t cute, it isn’t sweet, it isn’t small, it isn’t skinny / It needs flags on it when you tie it to the roof rack of the Mini…”

Billy Jenkins / Voice of God Collective: Scratches of Spain (VOTP Records, download only). On its first appearance in 1987 this album caused my sense of humour to fail: the point of Jenkins pastiching the cover of a Miles Davis classic for his collection of British-eccentric jazz, with a heavy brass-band and circus influence, escaped me. It seemed disrespectful, and it made me angry. Maybe I was being a bit po-faced. But I’ve listened to again, 30 years later, and I still feel the same way — except for one thing. Near the end there’s a track called “Cooking Oil” that breaks the prevailing mood. It’s an adagio for cello (Jo Westcott) and vibes (Jimmy Haycraft) over a bowed-bass pedal point (Steve Watts, possibly with a little electronic treatment), and it’s spellbinding in its restrained melodic beauty. If I were a film director, I’d use it for something or other, and people would notice. And then, after five absolutely celestial minutes, it’s back to the circus.

Red Price etc: Groovin’ High (Acrobat Music). This is a recording from a night at the Hopbine pub in North Wembley in 1965, featuring Red Price on tenor, Ray Warleigh on alto, Chris Pyne on trombone, John Burch on piano, Ron Mathewson on bass and Alan “Buzz” Green on drums. Four long blowing vehicles, including “Billie’s Bounce” and “Groovin’ High”, and a chance in particular to get some extra helpings of Warleigh and Burch, both under-recorded throughout their careers. Price, a veteran of the Squadronaires and the bands of Jack Parnell and Ted Heath, takes “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” for himself, displaying a Hawkins/Byas tendency that makes a good contrast with Warleigh’s approach, still heavily under the Parker influence. Simon Spillett’s exhaustive sleeve note provides all the context you could need.

Alan Skidmore: After the Rain (Miles Music). First I’ll declare an interest, albeit a mild and non-financial one. When this album first appeared, almost 20 years ago, I was invited to write the sleeve note. I agreed because I thought, and still do, that Alan Skidmore’s decision to devote an album to a set of standard ballads associated with John Coltrane, with orchestral accompaniment from the Hannover Radio Philharmonic on 10 tracks and Colin Towns’ Mask Symphonic on three others, was a good one. The arrangements of things like “Nature Boy”, “My One and Only Love”, “In a Sentimental Mood” and Coltrane’s “Naima” and “Central Park West” are not ground-breaking — much closer to Nelson Riddle than Eric Dolphy, you might say — but they suit the songs, and Skidmore responds to the harps and violins with some beautifully mature and gently heartfelt playing. It’s good to see it back in circulation.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. oliebrice #

    Very curious to hear the Westbrook

    June 28, 2017
    • Don’t delay, Olie. I’d be very interested to hear your response to it.

      June 29, 2017
  2. Bassist Jim Richardson (who worked regularly with Fame) played on ‘The Sweeney’ along with John Taylor. He once told me that he was really pleased that South negotiated residuals and he still received occasional payments. So, I guess everyone on that session did quite well from it.

    June 28, 2017
  3. Colin Harper #

    I didn’t know about the Harry South collection – I’m a huge fan of Simon Spillett’s writing and you make this sound really worth having, Richard. I’ll purchase…

    I’m delighted to have had a small part to play in Mike’s ‘Marching Song’ being resurrected by Mark Stratford’s RPM label – though it’s lovely that Mark, with Peter Eden’s blessing, was able to revive the Turtle imprint for it. I read Lois Wilson’s ‘Buried Treasure’ piece on the album a few months ago and it reminded me that I’d never heard it. Occasionally I’d looked on Ebay or Discogs, but copies were always too expensive – even the previous CD editions were going for £80-£100. I put Mike and Mark in touch with each other and, happily, the new 3CD edition is the result – and the first time I was able to hear it. It seemed ludicrous that such a legendary work was out of reach for anyone wishing to hear it, who wasn’t around at the time.

    This is very much a test of the market for RPM/Turtle-revived – if sales make sense, Mark would love to reissue more British jazz, including further works by Mike Westbrook, with Mike’s direct involvement (as was the case with ‘Marching Song’). I hope it works out well for all concerned.

    June 28, 2017
    • Saverio Pechini #

      Glad to hear that you’re involved in the Marching Song and Turtle resurrection! I bought all those albums back then and never stopped loving them . I’m partial to Metropolis , though : its cover depicts perfectly the music inside and those times . As Westy said to Ian Carr in Music Outside , Metropolis is one of those things that happen to you once or twice in a lifetime…
      Keep up the good work.

      June 29, 2017
      • Colin Harper #

        From contemporary magazine references, a version of ‘Metropolis’ was recorded in April 1970 – ostensibly for Decca – by the 11-piece ‘Love Songs’ line-up of Mike’s Concert Band, a couple of weeks after ‘Love Songs was recorded. Mike wanted out of his Decca contract hence it was re-recorded for RCA with a 26-piece band the following year. Wonder if Universal (Decca) still have it?

        The BBC sound archive definitely do have a 45-minute broadcast of ‘Metropolis’ interspersed with some chat from Mike, from January 1970. Mike conducted a version of ‘Metropolis’ for the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra in June 1970, which was licensed for broadcast on the BBC in September 1970. That’ll be kicking around somewhere too, no doubt (but not in the sound archive).

        June 29, 2017
  4. Saverio Pechini #

    Daryl Runswick’s pulsing bass is at the core of Henry Lowther’s Child Song , a very british take on In A Silent Way . You should know , Richard , since you wrote the perfect liner notes to that lovely album…

    June 29, 2017
  5. Richard Harris #

    “Red Price said of Lord Rockingham’s band “I’ll let you into a secret: we used to tune one tenor sharp, one flat, one baritone sharp and one flat…. and that’s how we got that f***ing awful sound” – Cafe Saxophone. Well, maybe, but it was certainly the latter.

    The El Skid “Rain” album is wonderful. Will definitely re-buy that one. And the Harry South. “Hall hears the Blues” is a great late night “Soho” track…

    June 29, 2017
  6. ‘After The Rain’ is a truly beautiful album. Thanks for the name check, Richard.

    June 29, 2017
  7. Peter Eden #

    Really nice to see all the comments
    on Marching Song.When we recorded
    that at Decca it was going to be a
    double album but they changed their
    mind and said they would release it
    as two albums! (Strangely enough
    it was released in America as a
    double album).

    June 29, 2017
    • Dear Peter — Nice to hear from you. I didn’t know that about Marching Song. It would have made a greater impact in the UK, I think, as a double-album. The simultaneous release of two volumes is the kind of thing that confuses buyers. Also it deserved the heft of a double package. Best, Richard.

      June 29, 2017

    What a superb reminder of a great period in British jazz. I’m one of your readers to make the connection between Harry South and Georgie Fame’s ‘Sound Venture’ – an early introduction to jazz for me at the time – so ‘The Songbook’ set goes straight to the top of my ‘to buy list’. So does Mike Westbrook’s ‘Marching Song’, which I already have but I must hear the the unreleased stuff. Unless my memory is playing tricks, wasn’t there another long-form piece titled ‘Earthrise’ by Westbrook at around this time? I think it was performed in concert but not recorded – unless any of the music saw the light of day as parts of Westbrook’s subsequent Blake-inspired pieces (?).

    But the release that really caught my eye is the Neil Ardley/ New Jazz Orchestra BBC sessions. The first British jazz album that I recall buying with my schoolboy pocket money was the Orchestra’s ‘Le Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’ – it was a Melody Maker jazz album of the month and the presence of Jack Bruce in the line-up was all this Cream fan needed to be parted from his cash. And what a treasure trove the album turned out to be! It introduced me to compositions by Miles and Coltrane – who I had at least heard of – but just as importantly I heard the Orchestra’s arrangements of pieces by new (to me) names such as Mike Taylor, Mike Gibbs and Howard Riley, along with a terrific version of Michael Garrick’s ‘Dusk Fire’. I’m pretty sure that hearing this album marked the point at which I first fell in love with jazz. And isn’t it great that wonderful musicians such as Frank Ricotti and Henry Lowther, both of whom appeared on the album, can still be heard playing live today. Happy days!

    June 30, 2017
  9. What to say about Marching Song? Finally given the treatment it deserves on CD – the 1999 reissue was imperfect but reasonable, while the 2009 one was appallingly packaged – with what must be the definitive essay on the piece, written by the excellent Duncan Heining and featuring contributions from John Surman, Dave Holdsworth and Westbrook himself, as well as some terrific photos and a whole third CD of (mostly) previously unreleased music, including the first time I have ever heard the legendary 1966 sextet, putting “Marching Song” in an entirely new context.

    I would say that the work has to be listened to as a programmatic totality – the individual sections are fine but lose their full impact out of context – and that it is important to listen to the Concert Band as a whole, as one unit moving to who knows where? The dramatic elements of the work are brilliantly choreographed, with moments of exquisite tenderness cheek by jowl with some of the most (deliberately) cacophonous, violent and disturbing music ever recorded under the name of jazz. And, regrettably from a political point of view, it hasn’t dated a bit in the 48 years since it was recorded. Would love to see someone doing the piece now with some of the younger musicians currently around on the UK jazz scene.

    July 4, 2017
    • that seems a little unkind to the 2009 version, which I was very glad to have at the time. Looks like I may need to acquire again for the extras, though….

      July 5, 2017

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