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Mike Westbrook’s ‘Citadel / Room 315’

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One day in 1974 Mike Westbrook came into the Island offices in St Peter’s Square, Hammersmith, to play me a tape of a concert he’d given in Södertälje with the 16-piece Swedish Radio Jazz Group. He’d been commissioned to write an extended work for the ensemble, with John Surman as a featured soloist. He called the piece Citadel / Room 315.

I was keen, and we started to make plans. Then something got in the way, and it didn’t happen. So instead of releasing the live version, several months later Mike went into the studios with a band of UK-based musicians including Kenny Wheeler and Henry Lowther on trumpets and Malcolm Griffiths on trombone, as well as Surman, to record a version that was released the following year by RCA, who’d put up the money.

That recording is now rare, which makes it even better news that the Swedish concert is now being released for the first time, with Westbrook’s blessing, under the title Love and Understanding, borrowing the name of one of the suite’s 11 sections. Hearing it for the first time in 46 years, I was delighted to find it every bit as exceptional as I’d thought back then.

In a manner typical of Westbrook, it ranges through a variety of approaches and moods, from the meditative to the wildly exultant, engaging the emotions all the way. The long “Love and Understanding” might be described as an essay on boogaloo moods, evolving from a slinky funk to a streetwise strut, taking in the “Oh Happy Day” riff and brassy TV detective-series brass fanfares en route. “Pastorale” begins in the way its title suggests before mutating into solos over the “Grazing in the Grass” motif, played by Westbrook on electric piano — another kind of pastorality, I guess. From the gentler passages, Surman’s soprano on “Tender Love” is particularly exquisite.

What also distinguishes the recording is the quality of the Swedish musicians. The solos from Jan Allan and Bertil Lövgren (trumpets), Arne Domnérus (alto and clarinet), Lennart Åberg (soprano and tenor), Lars Olofsson (trombone), Rune Gustafsson (guitar), Bengt Hallberg (piano) and Georg Riedel (bass) is exceptional, as is the drumming of Egil Johansen. They don’t go in for the sort of free-for-all shout-ups to which Westbrook’s British bands were prone, but I can’t imagine anything more invigorating than Åberg’s soprano wailing over the last section of “Love and Understanding”, immediately followed by Allan’s beautifully control of diminuendo as the section ends, or Lövgren’s gloriously lyrical delivery throughout “Pastorale”. The acapella trio for Domnérus’s clarinet and the bass clarinets of Surman and Erik Nilsson that opens the long “Sleepwalker Awaking in Sunlight” is a complete joy, as is Gustaffson’s liquid bebop guitar solo which follows it.

This makes it even more extraordinary that the reason for the cancellation of the proposed Island release was that a couple of the Swedish musicians were unhappy with their solos, didn’t want them preserved for posterity, and wouldn’t sign clearance forms. Listen, and try to guess who they might have been. It’s impossible.

In all, then, this is definitely one to add to the list of the great recordings of Westbrook’s important extended works of the past half-century, from Celebration through Marching Song and Metropolis to On Duke’s Birthday and The Cortège and many more. And in this case, to say the least, better late than never.

* Love and Understanding is released as a vinyl double album and a single CD the My Only Desire label (myonlydesirerecords.com). The photograph of Mike Westbrook is from the sleeve of the RCA version of Citadel and was taken by Eric Blum.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. martin newman #

    Richard: Re : your past interest in Bobby Parker Scheduled for June is a vinyl and 2cd set of the early work of Bobby Parker. Would you like to review ? best wishes

    Martin Newman ________________________________

    April 2, 2020
  2. Colin Harper #

    From what I recall from trawling British music papers for material towards a ‘Record Collector’ piece on Mike three or four years back, Mike stated at the time that the problem with licensing the radio version then was that one or two of the Scandinavian musicians felt their performances weren’t good enough. I’d better purchase the record to find out who was right. 🙂

    April 2, 2020
    • Yes, Colin — Mike’s just confirmed that to me.

      April 2, 2020
      • Colin Harper #

        I wonder which musicians had that concern? Can you, Richard, hear any wobbly performances from anyone on the recording?

        April 2, 2020
  3. Graham Morris #

    Couple of Plymothians here – Mike Westbrook and John Surman. Well, actually John Surman is from Yelverton, but close enough. I think he now lives in Norway, and Westbrook lives near Modbury

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    April 2, 2020
    • Mike and Kate actually now live in Dawlish. I visited them there last year.

      April 2, 2020
  4. Tony Fisher #

    This is excellent news, for which I’m grateful. I’m enthusiastic to hear the recording.

    April 2, 2020
  5. Geoff Andrew #

    Hi Richard; one point – the 1975 RCA release was a single album, not a double (I still have it.) Unless of course they released a single and a double album version! But otherwise very interested to read your take on the album (I wrote about it myself a couple of weeks ago on my blog); I wholly agree that it’s another terrific recording from Westbrook, and fascinatingly different from the British version.

    April 2, 2020
  6. Mick Steels #

    Any recording from Westy is to be welcomed pity it didn’t come out on the Island label.
    As a matter of interest Richard did you manage to squeeze out any other Jazz releases in your time there besides the superb Booker Little LP?

    April 2, 2020
  7. Maurizio Comandini #

    Citadel/Room315 was a single album, as Geoff Andrew already stated. I must add that RCA issued it also on a double album in 1979 as a sort of twoofer pairing Citadel/Room315 with Metropolis.

    m

    April 2, 2020
  8. Colin Harper #

    If I remember correctly, Mike takes the view that 1976’s ‘Love/Dream And Variations’ (released on Transatlantic and never on CD) is the natural companion to ‘Citadel/Room 315’. I think the players on both are similar. When Mark Stratford’s Turtle imprint was still a going concern, I’d suggested that the two albums be combined on a 3CD set with the Swedish broadcast – if all three could be licensed in. There was another piece from this period that Mike wrote to be played on the ‘Citadel’ UK tour, which could have been incorporated into the set if any usable recording survived. I like these sort of neat historical packages! But it was just an idea – Mark decided against issuing anything further on RPM/Turtle late last year (the business being what it is, etc.). Buts hats off to MOD for doing the needful with the Swedish recording!

    April 2, 2020
  9. Thanks for this heads-up Richard. I was lucky enough to attend the UK premiere of ‘Citadel/Room 315’ at The Roundhouse as part of the Camden Jazz Week in about 1974. I think that may have been before the RCA recording. It was a superb concert with an all-British band and John Surman was in outstanding form that night.

    I have loved Citadel/Room 315 ever since. It is in some ways Mike’s most ‘conventional’ work. But it hangs together really well and has some lovely themes.

    I very much look forward to hearing and comparing the RCA and Swedish versions.

    April 2, 2020
  10. geoffn #

    Most interesting – I certainly look forward to hearing that one. Looking at the sleeve of my much-played original album, I see it was recorded at Phonogram Studios in March 1975. Although it came out on CD a few years ago (and is still available for streaming) the companion piece Love/Dream and Variations mentioned by Colin Harper never seems to have been reissued. More’s the pity; in addition to fine writing by MW, there’s a lovely and unexpected interlude of Ellington’s Creole Love Call featuring, I believe, Paul Rutherford.

    The photos on the original RCA album were by Kate Barnard, soon to become Kate Westbrook. So there’s a fair chance that the portrait you show is by her.

    April 2, 2020
    • John Evans #

      I was very disappointed by the sound quality on the CD that BGO put out in 2006 — so much so that I went back to my vinyl LP of Citadel/Room 315 (the 1979 reissue) and digitised that instead to create a satisfactory CD. Great music!

      April 3, 2020
  11. I did a session with Westbrook’s band forty years ago and remember it fondly. It was roughly the line-up around the Bright As Fire album with Mel Collins on sax shut in a booth the size of a broom cupboard. They were a friendly and easy-going bunch to work with despite being crammed into that tiny radio studio in Glasgow. I wrote in my diary: “recorded an interesting band today, a bit weird but delightfully eccentric”. In truth I was probably too young to fully appreciate the high value of the British jazzers I was privileged to record at the time. Not now of course – huge respect! Looking forward to hearing Love & Understanding and some time out from pandemic misery!

    April 3, 2020
  12. Alan Laney #

    Your reviews are as enjoyable and inspiring as they were when I was reading them in MM 50 years ago Richard. Have ordered this direct from Westbrook Jazz and I know it’ll be an excellent purchase.

    April 5, 2020

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