Skip to content

Marc Johnson by himself

It’s more than 50 years since Barre Phillips made what I think was the first purely solo album by a jazz bassist. Since then there has been not exactly a flood of emulators, but certainly a steady stream, including albums by Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, Henry Grimes and John Edwards. I can think of lots of other bass players I’d like to have heard from in an extended unaccompanied setting, principally Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden.

Mingus would probably have responded to the idea, but died before such a thing would have seemed like a serious proposition. Haden, however, must have had many opportunities, not least because he often recorded for ECM, whose founder and producer, Manfred Eicher, was himself a bass-player and is a sort of patron saint of solo bass albums. But I guess Charlie, who recorded many times in a duo setting, saw music essentially as a conversation.

I thought of him, and sometimes of Mingus, too, while listening Marc Johnson’s new solo album, Overpass. There’s a weight to these eight pieces, a thoughtful lyricism and a very human sound on the instrument that link him to those forebears, along with a similar disinclination to show that he can make his fingers race up and down that long fingerboard in order to create horn-like lines. For Johnson, the bass isn’t a trumpet or a saxophone. It’s a bass, with its own values, virtues and character.

Johnson came to prominence as the bassist in Bill Evans’s last trio and has since played and recorded prolifically, often with the guitarists John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Pat Martino, Wolfgang Muthspiel and Pat Metheny and the pianists Eliane Elias, who is his wife, John Lewis, Lyle Mays and Enrico Pierannunzi. Overpass, recorded in a São Paulo studio, is his fifth album for ECM, and his first solo effort.

Unusually for the genre, it doesn’t consist entirely of original compositions and/or free improvisations. Five of the pieces are by Johnson, but he kicks off with versions of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” and Miles Davis’s “Nardis” and also includes Alex North’s lovely “Love Theme from Spartacus“. These are all familiar themes, perhaps over-familiar (and two of them were staples of Evans’ repertoire), but in Johnson’s hands they’re transformed into pieces that sit perfectly within the whole 43-minute sequence.

His own compositions include “And Strike Each Tuneful String”, where he starts with deliberate low thrums which mutate into a fast-running river of notes influenced by Burundi rhythms, and “Whorled Whirled World”, where he shows how he build a phenomenal momentum over eight and a half minutes without showing off. Two pieces stretch the solo format by using overdubs: “Samurai Fly”, in which two arco lines run above pizzicato ground figures, and “Yin and Yang”, where the single plucked and bowed voices answer each other with a meditative gravity. “Life of Pai” illustrates the beauty and consistency of his tone and the ardour of his phasing, punctuated by passages of double stops moving against a ground note.

That’s the anatomy of it, roughly, but in this case the overall impression is what counts for more than the detail. Marc Johnson has made an album in which a single instrument acts as the filter for profound emotions, exploring a range of techniques and trajectories with a coherent voice. Solo bass albums probably aren’t for everybody, but this is one that comes as a friend.

* Marc Johnson’s Overpass is out now on the ECM label. The photograph of Johnson is by Roy Borghouts.

RIP Don Everly

After a decade of estrangement, the Everly Brothers chose the Royal Albert Hall in London as the venue for their historic reunion concert on September 22, 1983. It was an unforgettable evening, all tensions seemingly resolved as the harmonies soared once again on all those great hits of the ’50s and ’60s. Phil died in 2014, aged 74. Now Don has gone, too, at 84. Here’s how I reported the reunion concert in The Times, with a wonderful photograph by Nobby Clark.

Nick Lowe in Covent Garden

Nick Lowe liked the “mischief and mayhem” of the punk-rock era, into which he was drawn through his budding talents as a producer of things like the Damned, Wreckless Eric and Elvis Costello. But he also remembered a collateral phenomenon: there were musicians, he said last night, “who’d been playing Stephen Stills songs the week before and were suddenly pretending they couldn’t play.”

His dry wit was in evidence at an event organised to tie in with the paperback edition of Will Birch’s biography, Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe. A large audience had assembled at the Seven Dials Club in Covent Garden to hear the two of them in conversation — or perhaps I should say reassembled, since we looked very much like the people that would have turned up to hear his band at Dingwalls or the Hope & Anchor, now 40 years further down the line.

Talking about his career, he said he’d changed his approach to recording in the mid-’80s when he realised that his days as a pop star were over and a new direction was required. He wanted other people to cover his songs, and he figured that if he recorded his own versions like demos, other artists would hear them and conclude they could do better.

If they simply followed what he’d done, he said, he felt disappointed. What he really liked was when someone approached one of his songs in a complete different and surprising way. Asked for examples, he mentioned Johnny Cash’s “The Beast in Me”, from the first volume of the American Recordings series, produced by Rick Rubin. Cash, his former stepfather-in-law, had been the most charismatic man he’d ever met, rivalled only by Solomon Burke. Oh, and there was a version of “I Live on a Battlefield”, which he’d written with Paul Carrack, given the full treatment by Diana Ross — “Turn that kitchen sink up a little louder!”

He talked about moving to Nashville to write songs with people he’d never met. How they’d start a conversation by asking how you’d got there, which airline, which hotel you were at, whether you’d had a good first night’s sleep, and you’d say, well, the people in the next room seemed to be having a party all night, and they’d say, oh, what room were they in? And you’d say, um, 706, I think… and they’d start writing straight away and there was the song: “There’s party in room 706…”

My favourite moment came after he was asked whether he’d like to produce a record with Cliff Richard. No, he said. Maybe once. Not now. Then he mentioned one project that never came off. “I had the idea to take Peters and Lee,” he said, “and get them to do ‘At the Dark End of the Street’. Can you imagine that? It would be heartbreaking, wouldn’t it?”

Then he made everybody happy by picking up an acoustic guitar and singing “Cruel to Be Kind”, not just the title number from the biography of the same name but a truly great pop song.

* Will Birch’s Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Work of Nick Lowe is published by Constable.

All things must be remixed

“When I make a record,” Phil Spector said, “I don’t want to tell musicians, ‘Well, eventually it’s going to sound like this — you’re going to be in more echo.’ No, put it on now. You can’t take the echo off ‘Be My Baby’. You can’t take the echo off ‘River Deep — Mountain High’. It’s on Tina Turner forever. That’s my art.”

Not, however, when it comes to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. Just over 50 years after the release of the hugely successful solo triple album, which Spector co-produced with the former Beatle, a new version of the album has appeared, in which the tracks have been remixed by Dhani Harrison, George’s son, and an engineer, Paul Hicks. It’s a project intended, they claim, to bring out Harrison’s contribution by clarifying the sound. It seems to me that, a few months after Spector’s death, what they’ve really been attempting to do is diminish the impact of Spector’s contribution and thereby to reduce what might be seen, in the light of his conviction on a charge of murdering the actress Lana Clarkson in a shooting incident at his home in 2003, as a stain on the record’s reputation.

The excuse for this apparent exercise in detoxification seems to be that George once said he might have liked this group of songs to have been produced with a lighter touch. I don’t think that’s good enough. He and Spector worked together over a period of months on the recording and mixing at Abbey Road, Trident and Apple studios. If Harrison had wanted the stripped-down sound that Spector produced for John Lennon on the Plastic Ono Band album that same year, he had plenty of opportunity to ask for it. Very clearly he didn’t. And nor did he choose to do anything about it in the three decades between the release of the album and his own death in 2001.

I spent £17 on the basic two-CD edition of the new version, as many will have been persuaded to do, and to me all the remixing does, by altering many of the aural dimensions and perspectives that Spector brought to it, is to diminish the grandeur and the impact of the music, robbing it of its character. It’s no longer the sharply focused record he and Harrison mixed, mastered and passed for release. It’s more ordinary. And, of course, the two people primarily responsible for its conception and execution are no longer around to offer their opinion.

Once again, I’d say that if Harrison had wanted his guitar lines to be louder, or his voice to be closer to the foreground, he could have had those things at the time, on demand. And if he’d wanted people to pay $999.98 or £859.99 for an “uber de luxe edition” including eight vinyl LPs, five CDs, a Blu-Ray disc, two books, a bookmark made from a felled oak tree in George’s garden at Friar Park, 1/6th scale “replica figurines” of George and the garden gnomes from the album cover, and a set of prayer beads, all housed within “an artisan-designed wooden crate”, I guess he’d have asked for that, too.

Having read all the advance publicity material, I was curious enough to wander down to Duke of York’s Square on the King’s Road in Chelsea to have a look at a promotional stunt devised to tie in with the release. This is a physical interpretation of Barry Feinstein’s cover photograph from the album, installed close by the entrance to the Saatchi Gallery. It’s by “world renowned floral artist Ruth Davis”, and you can see the result in the photograph above.

The idea is that you can take George’s place on the stool — you’ll have to bring your own hat and gumboots — and get a friend to take your photograph, which you can then circulate on your preferred social-media platform. It’ll be gone by the weekend, but to me it looked like bits and bobs left over from that ludicrous and expensively misconceived “mountain” currently positioned next to Marble Arch, at the top of Park Lane. Marble Arch was better without it, just as All Things Must Pass sounds better without someone else’s second thoughts. Some things are best left alone.

Alone and palely strumming…

There they were, half a century ago, alone and palely loitering, with their long dark hair and their flares and their Martin guitars and their debut albums on Transatlantic, regulars at Les Cousins or the Troubadour, peering up from bottom of the bill at Implosion or next weekend’s rain-drenched festival, finding slots on Sounds of the ’70s and the Whistle Test, maybe even Top of the Pops if they struck lucky with the right song — a “Catch the Wind”, a “Baker Street”, a “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?”, a “Streets of London” or an “Alone Again (Naturally)”.

British male singer-songwriters mostly came out of the local folk scene, which seemed to imbue them with a leaning towards the wistfully romantic. Their American counterparts, springing from close exposure to the blues and bluegrass traditions, seemed more robust in temperament. The exception would be Paul Simon, who shared the British tendency to what it would be unkind to call feyness — but then he’d spent time playing the London folk clubs as part of his formative experience, soaking up the vibe.

There was more to them than that archetype, of course, and the whole genre is interestingly captured in Separate Paths Together, a new three-CD box subtitled “An Anthology of British Male Singer-Songwriters 1965-75”. Compiled and annotated by David Wells, it parades an extraordinary range of artists in solo guise. Most of the usual suspects are here: Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, John Martyn, Donovan. Others — Kevin Ayers, Peter Hammill, Richard Thompson, Jim Capaldi, Mike Heron, Gary Farr, Dave Cousins — had made their initial reputations as members of bands. Free-standing solo artists range from Pete Atkin, who came out of the Cambridge Footlights putting melodies to Clive James’s effortfully intricate lyrics (maybe the nearest thing ever devised to an English version of French chanson), to Peter Skellern, whose deceptively artless “Hold On To Love” still sounds like a great pop record,

Among my favourites are David McWilliams’s “Days of Pearly Spencer”, as enduringly perfect an evocation of 1967 and the days of pirate radio as could be imagined; Bert Jansch’s brief, unadorned “Tell Me What Is True Love”; Mike Cooper’s “Paper and Smoke”, with its fine horn arrangement; Andy Roberts’s warmly nostalgic “All Around My Grandfather’s Floor”, from a poem by his Liverpool Scene bandmate Mike Evans; and Murray Head’s “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” — a record that everyone at Island in 1975 expected to be a huge hit, but mystifyingly wasn’t.

The alone-and-palely-loitering archetype is particularly well represented by Keith Christmas’s diaphanous “The Fawn”, Dave Cartwright’s poised “Song to Susan” and Duncan Browne’s lovely “Journey”, which kicks off the whole collection and makes me regret a crudely dismissive review I gave him when he supported Lou Reed at the Sundown in Edmonton in 1972 (not the happiest of juxtapositions, it must be said, and I wasn’t much kinder to Lou). I’d offer an apology, but he died of cancer in 1993, aged 46.

The tracks I’ve mentioned are on the first two discs, where the genre is stretched to include something like the heavily arranged “Jesus Christ Junior” by Patrick Campbell-Lyons, a member of the original Nirvana. The third disc is largely devoted to also-rans (Bill Fay, Chris Baker, Paul Brett) and anomalies (Steve Gibbons, Jona Lewie, Crispian St Peters), including Mike Hart’s “Disbelief Blues”, a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” homage, and Al Jones’s extremely creepy “Jeffrey Don’t You Touch”, a clumsy portrayal of a sex abuser that wouldn’t get anywhere near the radio today.

The two most obvious omissions from the set’s 66 tracks represent the genre’s opposite poles: the introspection of Nick Drake and the extroversion of Elton John. I guess their absence is explained by permission issues. Cat Stevens isn’t represented, either. But you already know what they sounded like.

* Separate Paths Together is out now on Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records label. The photograph is of Duncan Browne; perhaps someone out there can tell me who took it.

Tom Challenger’s ‘Imasche’

In the gig-free year and a half that ended only a couple of weeks ago, among the things I missed most was free improvisation. There’s nothing like the experience of being there when it happens, watching something being created from scratch, seeing as well as hearing the music take shape through the interaction of the players in a particular environment. Very occasionally an album succeeds in capturing the ephemeral nature of collective improvisation in a way that loses none of the music’s dimensions. Into that category comes Imasche, a new recording on which the tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger is joined by the pianist Alexander Hawkins and the drummer and percussionist Mark Sanders.

Recorded in London last December, it consists of three pieces, each with an enigmatic title. The first, “BriXII”, 17 minutes long, is the most extroverted, uncoiling from a furtive opening into an active three-way conversation full of inventive responses. Challenger has a lovely way of playing that reminds me of Sam Rivers: a light, fine-grained tone, a certain way of phrasing that brings phrases back on themselves, swift touches of note-bending and flutter-tongueing, exploiting mobility without agitation and velocity without aggression.

The second piece, “GesS”, at nine minutes, has the exquisite delicacy of a Japanese watercolour: gentle rustles and small bells and gongs from Sanders, damped and lightly strummed piano strings from Hawkins, false-fingered long tones and harmonics undergoing shifts of timbre and register from Challenger.

If you’ve ever thrown up your hands and decided that free improvisation was a dead end, listen to the final piece, “TanN”. Stretching over half an hour, it takes its time as it shifts focus and momentum, becoming a compelling slow burn that provides a perfect example of how successfully this generation of musicians has metabolised and extended the experiments conducted at the Little Theatre Club and elsewhere in the 1960s. Throughout Imasche we hear three musicians refining a language that is now as eloquent as any other — and sometimes, because of the demands it makes and the qualities it brings out of its finest exponents, even more rewarding.

* Tom Challenger’s Imasche is available as a limited-edition CD and a download from his Bandcamp page: https://tomchallenger.bandcamp.com/album/imasche. The photograph of Challenger was taken by Alex Bonney.

Another side of Charlie Watts

When a drummer takes temporary leave from an established band, the absence can sometimes make people think harder about the importance of that individual’s contribution. Roy Haynes wasn’t a downgrade in any sense when he depped for Elvin Jones at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1963, but it may have strengthened a recognition of what Elvin had brought — and would bring again — to the John Coltrane Quartet. Ditto Jimmie Nicol’s short stay with the Beatles on a tour of Australasia in the summer of 1964, replacing Ringo Starr, who was having his tonsils removed. (When George Harrison was given the news, he threatened to pull out too: “If Ringo’s not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements.”)

I thought of those examples while reading this week that Charlie Watts won’t be with the Rolling Stones on their forthcoming US dates. He’s undergoing surgery for an unspecified condition. It’s worth recalling that Charlie was already a Rolling Stone when Haynes replaced Jones and Nicol replaced Starr; as far as I know he has missed not a single one of the band’s live appearances since joining them in January 1963.

Charlie’s adventures outside the band have always been worth following, from the extraordinary big band he brought to Ronnie Scott’s in 1985 to the adventurous and fascinating percussion project with his friend Jim Keltner in 2000. For the last month or so I’ve been listening to an album that happens to be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year: Long Ago & Far Away, in which his quintet — Gerard Presencer (trumpet and flugel), Peter King (alto), Brian Lemon (piano), Dave Green (bass) –and the singer Bernard Fowler are joined by the London Metropolitan Orchestra to perform arrangements by Lemon, King and Presencer of 14 standards from the American songbook.

These are great songs, and they’re handled with the appropriate respect. The opener, George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got a Crush on You”, is even treated to its proper out-of-tempo introduction (what used to be called the verse): “How glad the many millions / Of Annabels and Lillians / Would be / To capture me / But you had such persistence / You wore down my resistance / I fell / And it was swell…”

Fowler, a long-time Stones backing vocalist who has also recorded with Tackhead and Little Axe, pitches his vocals perfectly, somewhere between Bobby Short and Luther Vandross, with a pleasant tone and a well controlled vibrato. His voice rests easily on arrangements which tend to the lush and romantic but never get close to kitsch. The rhythm section is elegantly discreet (you’re hardly aware of Watts’s presence, which is how it should be) and the horns decorate the music perfectly, Presencer with a tone almost as gorgeous as the late, great Joe Wilder’s and King adding a dash of bitters to the smooth cocktail.

No, these fine versions of “Good Morning Heartache” and “What’s New” aren’t going to replace those by Holiday and Sinatra. But the whole thing runs together seamlessly, the arrangers the opportunity to liven things up with “In the Still of the Night”, which borrows its momentum from the version Gil Evans arranged for Charlie Parker, the group joined by the congas of Luis Jardim and the horns playing what sounds like a transcription of part of Bird’s original solo before King peels off into a variation of his own. “I’m in the Mood for Love” is delivered straight until Fowler gives us an extract from King Pleasure’s famous vocalese version of James Moody’s solo, in unison with Green’s pizzicato bass. For me, the only slightly unsatisfactory moment derives from the decision to take Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” at ballad speed rather than at the insouciant medium-up tempo that best sets off its sophisticated irony.

I was going to write about this album anyway, with a recommendation to those who don’t know it to file it alongside Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely and Holiday’s Lady in Satin, to be played in moments when those two harrowing masterpieces seem too intense. Let’s wish him all the best with the operation, in the hope that we see him back on the bandstand — whether in a stadium or a boîte — before too long.

* Charlie Watts’s Long Ago & Far Away was released in 1996 on the Virgin label. The photograph is from the accompanying booklet, and was taken by Jack English.

Henry Lowther at the Vortex

Still Waters (from left): Alcyona Mick, Henry Lowther, Dave Green, Pete Hurt.

The trumpeter and occasional bandleader Henry Lowther turned 80 a couple of weeks ago, and last night he brought his quintet, Still Waters, to the Vortex for a birthday celebration. It was the first gig I’d attended since seeing Bryan Ferry at the Albert Hall in March of last year — and when I mentioned to Ferry that I was going to see Lowther, he remembered immediately that Henry had played the muted obligato behind the opening verse of “These Foolish Things”, the title track from Bryan’s first solo album, back in 1973.

That’s Henry for you, a quiet and understated but ubiquitous presence on the British music scene for five and a half decades. You might have heard him in the bands of Gil Evans, George Russell, Mike Westbrook, Graham Collier, John Dankworth, Mike Gibbs, Stan Tracey, Kenny Wheeler or Colin Towns, with Barry Guy and the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, with Manfred Mann, on Talk Talk’s albums, on John Mayall’s Bare Wires, on Richard and Linda Thompson’s Pour Down Like Silver, Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset, Elton John’s A Single Man and countless others.

I first met him in 1969, on a plane to Germany, where he was touring with his regular employer of the time, the drummer Keef Hartley. He told me about the recent experience of playing with the band at the Woodstock Festival, where they had appeared on the Saturday afternoon, between John Sebastian and the Incredible String Band. A few months later he asked me to write a sleeve note for his first album, Child Song, released on the Deram label and now a collectors’ item.

The Vortex on Saturday night, with its reduced socially-distanced attendance, wasn’t exactly Woodstock, but Still Waters — Pete Hurt on tenor, Dave Green on bass, Paul Clarvis on drums and Alcyona Mick depping for the regular pianist, Barry Green — produced a set of lovely music. Henry’s compositions are like his improvising, characterised by an innate lyricism, and I particularly enjoyed the chance to hear a live performance of “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”, the beguiling title track from his most recent album. Throughout the set the trumpet solos had that typical blend of beautiful tone, song-like phrases and surprising twists. The piano solos also caught the ear, Mick deploying a variety of resources, from silvery single-note lines to beautifully formed chordal inventions, as she took every chance to add a sense of elegant drama.

As we applauded Henry Lowther’s music, all you could think was what an adornment this modest but brilliant and much cherished man has been to the British jazz scene, adhering to the highest standards while maintaining the most open of minds, his work as a player and a teacher inspiring generations of younger musicians. Many happy returns to him.

* Henry Lowther’s Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe was released in 2018 on the Village Life label.

Bookshelf 5: Gilles Peterson

Everybody has a story about how they got through the first wave of the coronavirus. Gilles Peterson, the famed London DJ, record label boss and general man-about-music, certainly has one, and he tells it in an extremely handsome volume with the title Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic. It’s arranged as a kind of diary or almanac, running through the first six months of 2020, containing a cornucopia of material: playlists of his programmes for Worldwide FM and the BBC, poems, manifestos, tributes to those who died during the year (including McCoy Tyner, Hamilton Bohannon, Betty Wright, Henry Grimes and Tony Allen), birthday greetings to Stevie Wonder, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hermeto Pascoal and others, and of course a vast amount of beautifully assembled visual material, including the sleeves of dozens of highly collectable vinyl, from Mary Lou Williams’s Piano Contempo and a 1955 Juliette Gréco EP to Roy Brooks’s Black Survival and Cachao y su Descarga ’77.

There are also a number of original photographs taken in London during the six months when normal human interaction was curtailed, laid out across double-page spreads with minimal captioning but together painting a picture of the city and its moods during a year in which the silence of lockdown was broken by an eruption of political protests and counter-protests. Many of the photographs are credited to Dobie, which is the name used by Anthony Campbell, a hip-hop artist and producer who began using a camera to record the skateboarders under the South Bank in the early 1980s. I like his images very much, particularly the one you can see above, which captures a historic moment in British life.

Reflecting on the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, Peterson recalls an earlier element in the same pattern of tragedy: the fatal shooting of the saxophonist Don Myrick, a founder member of Earth Wind & Fire, by a policeman in Santa Monica in 1993. What can a DJ do in response? “I will play music from Nina Simone to Gil Scott Heron and Childish Gambino,” he writes. “I will play these songs to push back against systemic and institutionalised racism that’s been given a refreshed energy by the current power structures which continue to manipulate and divide the people.”

The ingredients of this 600-page book are given a chance to speak so eloquently by the people who, with Gilles, put it together: its editor, Paul Bradshaw (founder of the much missed magazine Straight, No Chaser), and its designer, Hugh Miller. They’ve made a thing that’s not just lovely to own but will act as a poignant memento of a time from which we’re still struggling to emerge with bodies and souls intact.

* Lockdown FM is published by Worldwide FM, price £40: https://worldwidefm.ochre.store/

Mose in middle age

I’d bought my first Mose Allison record in about 1962. It was an EP on the Esquire label, licensed from Prestige, and it contained all 10 atmospheric piano-trio miniatures making up Back Country Suite, the title of his first album, recorded five years earlier. Allison was clearly aware of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, but he was also steeped in the country blues that he’d heard growing up small-town Mississippi before studying English and philosophy at Louisiana State University. The result was was strong but fine-boned music, light on its feet, sultry as a southern night but as open as a big sky.

By the time I finally got to see him, during one of his many appearances at the Pizza Express in London in the 1980s, he’d moved on. He still sang the songs that had entranced the likes of Georgie Fame and Pete Townshend in the ’60s — his own “Parchman Farm”, Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Mind” and Mercy Dee’s “One Room Country Shack”. But his piano-playing had taken a wild left turn into a territory located somewhere between those staked out by Lennie Tristano and Cecil Taylor. A couple of time during a set he would suddenly rage up and down the keyboard, creating a torrent of two-fisted sound from waves of chromatic runs. Seems unlikely? If it was the antithesis of his early minimalism, it was certainly thrilling. Anyone turning up to hear the back-porch philosopher who sang “Well a young man ain’t nothin’ in the world these days” with such laconic resignation was in for a shock. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get to hear him many more times before his death in 2016, aged 89.

The young Mose could be heard on a 3-CD box set released on Fresh Sound in 2014, a compilation of the six albums he recorded for Prestige between 1957 and 1959: Back Country Suite, Local Color, Young Man Mose, Ramblin’ with Mose Allison, Creek Bank and Autumn Song. They formed the basis of the reputation that persuaded Nesuhi Ertegun to sign him to Atlantic in 1964 and to record 10 albums with him over the next dozen years. Those albums — I Don’t Worry About a Thing, Swingin’ Machine, The Word from Mose, Wild Man on the Loose, Mose Alive!, I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’, Hello There Universe, Western Man, Mose in Your Ear and Your Mind is on Vacation — have now been coupled with two subsequent recordings for Elektra, Middle Class White Boy and Lessons in Living, in a new 6-CD box.

Seven of the 10 Atlantic albums stay with the trio format, featuring such fine musicians as the drummers Osie Johnson and Paul Motian and the bassists Earl May and Red Mitchell. Two of those trio sets were recorded live, one at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach in 1965 and the other at In Your Ear in Palo Alto five or six years later. The latter album, Mose in Your Ear, contains a track called “Powerhouse”, almost nine minutes long, which perfectly exemplifies the kind of pianistic eruption I mentioned earlier, ranging across almost all significant approaches to jazz pianism — stride, boogie-woogie, barrelhouse, bebop, Monk-to-Cecil angularity — while somehow retaining Allison’s signature.

The same album also has perhaps his best recorded version of Jimmie Davis’s “You Are My Sunshine”, one of the standards he loved to examine over and over again, nudging the tune’s melodic planes until he has reshaped it into something completely his own, an almost total reinvention.

Of the three Atlantic albums in which horns are added to the trio, the 1976 set called Your Mind Is on Vacation is the most interesting and fully realised. With Al Porcino on trumpet, David Sanborn on alto and Joe Farrell on tenor, Allison takes chances with his arrangements. “One of These Days” is a slow altered blues played in the style of a Mingus small band imitating the late-’50s Ray Charles outfit, with enigmatically stretched silences at odd moments. “Fires of Spring” is a sophisticated cabaret song, the sort of thing Fran Landesman used to write, with a brilliant rubato treatment and a conversation-stopper of an ending.

Lessons in Living, recorded live at the Montreux Festival in 1982, is the more interesting of the two Elektra albums, with Jack Bruce on bass and Billy Cobham on drums, both commendably concerned to accompany rather than draw attention to themselves, and there are guest spots from Eric Gale on guitar and Lou Donaldson on alto. A wild up-tempo version of Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” — another old favourite — flirts with a wonderful chaos in the piano interlude, and there’s a perfectly weighted treatment of “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”, in which he dispenses cosmic truth with that wry fatalism.

A lot of Mose, then, but certainly not too much, because he was a true original who work deserves to be brought to the attention of new generations of listeners. After the reissue producer Jordi Puyol’s fine work on the Prestige/Fresh Sound collection, Bob Fisher’s compilation and annotation of this Atlantic/Elektra set is immaculate, as is the stylish package design and artwork by Michael Robson. Now all we need is for someone to compile the eight albums for Blue Note and one for Verve, mostly produced by Ben Sidran, and one for Anti-, supervised by Joe Henry, that represent the balance of his recording career, spanning 1987 to 2010. Not too much to ask, I hope.

* Mose Allison: The Complete Atlantic/Elektra Albums 1962-1983 is on Cherry Red’s Strawberry label.