Ian Carr – jazz rock pioneer

We’ve played the music of the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet since we started Cosmic Jazz last year and this feature looks at Carr’s influence on jazz in Britain over the last 30 years. Carr was a trumpeter, writer and broadcaster who also wrote definitive biographies of Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett. In the 1970s, his band Nucleus epitomised the best of the developing jazzrock movement with a series of strong album releases that – like his work with Don Rendell – still sound good today.
Neil has strong memories of seeing Carr’s influential jazz-rock group Nucleus in 1977 when they supported Chick Corea’s Return to Forever supergroup at (probably) Newcastle Polytechnic. He has a vague memory that the ticket was only 50p: it seems improbable, but have a look yourself!

Although he was born in Scotland in 1933, Carr was always linked to the north east of England where he had studied English at Newcastle University. Old Heartland (1989), one of his last albums, celebrated the Northumbrian countryside and has some memorable themes. Carr cut his musical teeth in his brother’s band the EmCee Five before forming the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet with other key players on the British jazz scene including pianist Michael Garrick. The group recorded five albums for EMI, all of which are now reissued. We recommend the BGO reissue which features Shades of Blue and Dusk Fire – both masterpieces with strong tunes and inspired playing.

In 1970 Carr left the quintet and formed the ground-breaking jazzrock band Nucleus. This led to the release of twelve albums, many originally released on the influential Vertigo label and now available again on BGO. Carr also played with the German based United Jazz and Rock Ensemble and we’ll be playing tracks from their rare live album on Mood Records in coming months. For new listeners to Nucleus, we’d recommend starting with the BGO double Elastic Rock/We’ll Talk About It Later (1970/71) or the later live album In Flagrante Delicto (1977). Whilst the Rendell/Carr Quintet was quintessentially English, Nucleus had a much more IanCarr01international perspective, playing on the same bill as world-class bands like Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Nucleus never sold out to the later excesses and limitations of what jazz-rock became as the 1970s ended – their heart always beat with a jazz sensibility and the music remained defiantly complex but accessible.

Ian Carr was also a great writer. His definitive biography of Miles Davis was bought by this writer in its first edition in 1982. I remember well the shock of reading the then almost heretical impression that those 1970s Davis albums I loved (including Jack Johnson, Live Evil and Agharta) should be reconsidered as powerful influential jazz – something that’s now an accepted wisdom. When Davis died, Ian Carr led the jazz based tributes on radio and television which included heartfelt memories from Davis alumni like Dave Holland and John McLaughlin. What came across in that quietly authoritative radio voice with its slight Geordie inflection was the sheer warmth of affection for a figure that Carr knew was complex, contrary and yet unquestionably a genius

Carr was always a wise commentator on the music and what later became the Rough Guide to Jazz was a collaboration with fellow writers Digby Fairweather and Brian Priestley. He also wrote a fine biography of Keith Jarrett and the 1973 monograph on contemporary jazz in Britain, Music Outside, was recently reissued in an updated edition.

Ian Carr will be remembered as one of the finest jazz musicians of his generation but – more importantly – as a great ambassador of the contemporary jazz scene. We shall miss him.

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