28 September 2021: celebrating British jazz

The release of the wonderful new compilation Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) – which is being followed by the vinyl release of seminal albums by several featured artists – provided the inspiration to produce a programme of all British jazz. It’s an exciting mixture of music with a range of styles demonstrating that British jazz has always had endless invention, world class musicians and distinctive voices of its own.

  1.   Mike Westbrook – Collective Improvisation from Metropolis

We like to start the show with a piece of music that is dramatic, powerful and makes you pay attention. This week is no exception – in fact it is a shining example. Pianist and composer Mike Westbrook wrote Metropolisa jazz interpretation of a day in the life of the city of London, during 1968-69. Over the years, the piece has been played in various configurations from four to twenty-five musicians. This track is from the twenty-five musicians version, written with an Arts Council bursary and first performed at the Mermaid Theatre, London, 18 May, 1969. The opening track on this  album (simply, Side 1, Track 1), is a collective improvisation and a mighty impressive one. It includes Malcolm Griffiths and Paul Rutherford on trumpets, Mike Osborne and Ray Warleigh on alto saxes, Harry Miller on bass, John Marshall on drums, Mike Westbrook on piano, with solos from Alan Skidmore on tenor (who appeared as bandleader in our last Cosmic Jazz show) and Dave Holdsworth on trumpet.

2The Joe Harriott & Amancio D’Silva Quartet – Jaipur from Hum Dono/Impressed 

The occasion of this all-British show is the release of Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain 1965-72, but Tony Higgins (who compiled and wrote the invaluable sleeve notes for this release) has been involved in other British jazz re-release compilations with DJ and label owner Gilles Peterson. Two releases emerged from this collaboration – Impressed and Impressed 2 – and we featured tracks from both on this show. Each are testament to the long-established diversity in terms of heritage and nationality on the British jazz scenes. Tenor sax player Joe Harriott was born in Kingston, Jamaica and became one of the most original and powerful jazz musicians of the post-war era in Britain. Guitarist Amancio D’Silva was born in Goa and was at one time employed by the Maharajah of Jaipur. Both Harriott and D’Silva recorded albums under their own names. You’ll also hear Dave Green on bass, Bryan Spring on drums, Ian Carr on trumpet and Norma Winstone MBE (born in Bow, East London) who provides her trademark wordless vocals. Winstone recently celebrated her 80th birthday (23 September) and remains a tireless performer on the jazz scene. Hum Dono (recorded in 1969 and re-released in 2015 ) was actually her first recording and is well worth seeking out. With her then-husband pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, she performed and recorded three albums for the ECM label as a member of the trio Azimuth (no relation to the Brazilian trio with a similar name). These were issued as a 3CD box set  in 1994 and are an excellent introduction to Winstone’s vocal prowess. Her own 1987 album Somewhere Called Home, also on ECM, has often been called a classic – the AllMusic review notes “It’s not only a watermark of Winstone’s career but, in the long line of modern vocal outings released since the romantic vocal tradition of Fitzgerald and Vaughan ended with free jazz and fusion, the disc stands out as one most original yet idyllic of vocal jazz recordings… A must for fans looking for something as cozy as a golden age chanteuse, but without all the gymnastic scatting and carbon copy ways of many a contemporary jazz singer.” 

3The Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet – Prayer from Dusk Fire    

There are several musicians in this first section of the show that Derek has seen live over the years. They include Mike Westbrook – with on one occasion Norma Winstone, Tubby Hayes and Harry Beckett – but the first (and the one that got him into jazz) was probably the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet. Tenor/soprano saxophonist/clarinettist Don Rendell and trumpet/flugelhorn player Ian Carr led an inventive quintet that developed a unique and distinctive British sound that was very definitely not re-working US jazz. Dave Green was on bass (as he was on Jaipur above), Trevor Tompkins on drums and  the ever-creative Michael Garrick on piano. Prayer was, in fact, a Garrick composition and reflected his spiritual interests – indeed, Derek saw him perform once on the organ of Norwich Cathedral where he played music from his album Jazz Praises, originally recorded at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Prayer is a superb choice from this album: Garrick’s composition and his piano contributions are stunning and Rendell’s clarinet playing has immense presence. This is one of our favourite albums from this quintet and we’ll continue to sing its praises: it’s available on a single CD with the earlier Shades of Blue record and – if you can find it – on a superb vinyl pressing from Jazzman Records, who located and acquired the original analogue master tapes from the Universal vaults, created masters at Abbey Road Studios and produced audiophile quality pressings which sound superb.

4. Tubby Hayes and The Paul Gonsalves All Stars – Don’t Fall Off The Bridge from Change of Setting/Impressed 2   

To hear saxophonist Tubby Hayes live was a truly memorable event. Derek remembers a performance on a warm summer’s evening to a packed crowd at the Bull’s Head, Barnes Bridge sometime in the late 1960s. From 1957 to 1959, Hayes joined Ronnie Scott in co-leading a quintet, the Jazz Couriers – one of the most fondly remembered British jazz groups. Unusually for the time, Hayes also played in the US, performing at the Half Note in New York, the Boston Jazz Workshop and Shelly Manne’s Manne-hole in Los Angeles. Back in London, Hayes formed his own big band, working in television, film and radio, and even having his own television series (1961–1962, and 1963) but by the mid-1960s it was harder for British jazz musicians to make a living as touring jazzmen. Hayes was also compromised by his own lifestyle, with a combination of relationship, alcohol and narcotic issues which, by the end of the 1960s, had begun to publicly affect his career. With heart problems complicating his situation, it was perhaps not unexpected that Hayes died at the age of 38 during a second heart operation. Almost all of his records have now been reissued on CD and there’s an excellent CD box set available of the Fontana records. Saxophonist Simon Spillett is a notable Hayes scholar and has published a very readable biography, The Long Shadow of the Little Giant and in 2015 a DVD documentary Tubby Hayes: A Man in Hurry appeared – see the trailer here. Our choice of tune can be found on the Impressed 2 compilation and originally appeared on Hayes’ 1967 album Change of Setting. US sax player Paul Gonsalves was a member of Duke Ellington’s band but the remainder of his All-Stars on this record were British and included Tony Coe on alto and Ronnie Scott on tenor. Again, this album was recorded at the celebrated Lansdowne Studios in London and the track title refers to the middle passage (or bridge) of this modal tune.

5Harry Beckett – Third Road from Flare Up/Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain  (1965-1972)

Trumpeter Harry Beckett was another Caribbean musician active in the UK: a Barbadian born in 1935 who moved to the UK in his late teens and played (uncredited) trumpet in the 1962 British film noir All Night Long along with other contemporary luminaries of the London jazz scene (including Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck who were in the country at the time). Watch the film (here’s the original trailer – a London-centred take on Shakespeare’s Othello – and you’ll see Tubby Hayes in there too… On CJ, we have previously played Harry Beckett’s emotional, warm and calming duet with Mike Westbrook at the end of the Metropolis record featured above (Metropolis IX). The tune draws comparisons with Stan Tracy/Bobby Wellins’ Starless and Bible Black: both are essential pieces of music that you will play time and time again. In a long career, Beckett played with many of the top names in British jazz including John Surman, Mike Gibbs, Stan Tracey and more besides. One of his final records was a dub-centred experiment with Adrian Sherwood from On-U Sounds – this is Something Special. Third Road appeared on Flare Up, Beckett’s debut album and takes some inspiration from the second great Miles Davis quintet but is both funkier and freer. The group is something of an all-star set up with a triple-sax front line is comprised of John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore. Frank Ricotti is on vibes and an uncredited John Taylor appears on Fender Rhodes. The record was reissued by Jazzprint in 2005, and contains excellent liner notes by noted British jazz writer Richard Williams – whose thebluemoment blog is always good reading. Flare Up is pretty much essential listening for anyone interested in British jazz from this  most creative period. Third Road and three other tunes were written and arranged by Graham Collier, another undersung British jazz pioneer.

6Jazz Jamaica – War from Motorcity Roots

In 1991, and inspired by the rhythms of traditional Jamaican music, Gary Crosby – one of Britain’s leading jazz bass players – gathered a group of musicians to play a fusion of mento, ska, reggae and jazz alongside Jamaican folksongs. The result was Jazz Jamaica. As the nephew of veteran Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, it was perhaps not surprising that Crosby should move in this direction. With an expanded line up that included guest soloists, including Andy Sheppard, Soweto Kinch and Alex Wilson, Jazz Jamaican morphed into the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, a 20-piece band featuring vocals, five saxophones, four trumpets, and four trombones with a rhythm section of double bass, piano, drums, guitar and percussion. Motorcity Roots – a reworking of classic Motown songs was released in 2005 – we chose Edwin Starr’s powerful War.

7Emma-Jean Thackray – Our People from Yellow  

We are loving this outstanding new release from British trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray and featured another track this week. The sources of inspiration on this eclectic record are hugely diverse but there’s one that might go unnoticed: as a teenager in Yorkshire, Thackray was the principal trumpeter in her local brass band and the use of brass here, with a sousaphone joining the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, seems to hark back to that tradition – itself something of a reflection of New Orleans brass too.  This sits very happily alongside the more ‘cosmic’ hippieish influences on this (literally) delightful record. With choral hooks like “To listen is to know and to know is to love”, “The sun it grows us… The sun is life” and “We are all our people… We are one and the same” you’ll come away from this record feeling challenged, rewarded and – hopefully – at peace.

8Laura Jurd – Jumping In from Stepping Back, Jumping In

Another UK trumpeter, Mercury-prize nominated Laura Jurd, works in a dazzling array of contexts including Dinosaur, her experimental jazz quartet which uses electronica, Celtic folk, world music influences in a successful a neo-fusion mash-up. Jurd seems to constantly push against the constraints of whatever lineup she works in. She emerged through the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra but also featured in the atmospheric post-rock outfit Blue-Eyed Hawk, played the Miles Davis role in a reimagining of Sketches of Spain, added a string quartet to a jazz trio and with Stepping Back, Jumping In moves from a kind of edgy minimalism to a Bartok-flavoured mid-European folk. But other influences are thrown in too – British-Iranian composer Soosan Lolavar plays the santoor (a kind of hammered dulcimer) and our opening track choice features guitarist Rob Luft on banjo. Another track, Companion Species, is an extraordinary nine minute piece written by the Norwegian Ansja Lauvdal and Heida K Jóhannesdóttir Mobeck, where the collision of styles is described by Guardian reviewer John Lewis as “something that resembles the Art Ensemble of Chicago entering Afrobeat territory”. The result of all this is a somewhat schizophrenic record that doesn’t entirely work – but you can’t knock the endless invention.

9Camilla George Quartet – Mami Wati Returns/Usoro from Isang  

At this stage of the programme we featured British artists that Derek has heard more recently. He saw Camilla George and Sarah Tandy playing together as part of the Camilla George Quintet at the start of August at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. They are both on this tune along with Femi Koleoso on drums and  Daniel Casimir on bass – who also appeared at Snape. Mami Wati Returns/Usoro continues the tradition in British jazz of drawing upon the diverse heritages of the players. On the album Isang, George references both the land of her birth (Nigeria) and the Grenadian side of her family background along with references to West African folktales – Mami Wati is an African water spirit who appears in the shape of a mermaid. Interestingly, George has performed in Jazz Jamaica – reflecting a recurrent theme in this programme that there has always been close links among the different generations of British jazz musicians.

10. Sarah Tandy – Snake In The Grass from Infection In The Sentence

One of the best of the new crop of British musicians is keyboardist Sarah Tandy, whose invention is always a joy to behold. The music simply flow out of her and she makes it all look so relaxed, easy, and almost nonchalant. On Cosmic Jazz we loved her album Infection in the Sentence and it’s always worth featuring another tune from this highly recommended record – this time Snake in the Grass. As we’ve indicated before, there are plans for a follow-up release – perhaps by the end of the year – but until then check out her 2019 release, available here on Bandcamp.

11. Binker Golding – Fluorescent Black from Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers      

Which brings us finally to another fine British musician who Neil has seen performing in London – saxophonist Binker Golding who is linked to Gary Crosby through his Tomorrow’s Warriors programme – indeed, he’s now the Musical Director of the Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Orchestra. As a prolific sideman Golding has performed with an impressive array of cross-generational jazz talent including  vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Moses Boyd’s Exodus and Maisha – all of whom have featured previously on Cosmic Jazz. Parallel to his other musical activities, Golding also leads a long running quartet featuring the talents of three more rising stars of the London jazz scene, pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones. These three regularly work together as a unit and also form part of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s highly regarded quartet. Abstractions… represents Golding’s much anticipated début in the classic saxophone led quartet format. The album was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London and mixed in New York by the celebrated recording engineer James Farber, who has worked with such giants of the music as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker and pianist Brad Mehldau. Golding says “It’s about experiences I had throughout my teenage years and twenties. It’s about remembering, forgetting, thinking you’ve forgotten and remembering again. It’s about people and friends that you’ll never see again and times that you can’t go back to, so you have to settle for the memory of them instead, whilst holding on to some hope for the future”. In this wholly acoustic quartet format Golding’s playing has been compared to that of saxophone greats such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane – and, yes, there’s something re-assuringly conventional about Golding’s sound here, particularly when compared to his more abstract, freely structured recordings with Moses Boyd. The writing is firmly within the jazz tradition and the result is is more like a conventional Blue Note record from the 1960s – but this is clearly a deliberate intention on Golding’s part. Fluorescent Black is the closing tune and – fittingly – features Golding at his most Coltrane-like as he stretches out on tenor around an infectious riff based theme. It’s an impressive album and one well worth hearing – especially on vinyl. You can get it directly from his Bandcamp site here. The black wax version is still available, including in a rather nice gatefold Japanese edition shipped in limited quantities to the US and UK.

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