Around the time the documentary ‘A Man in a Hurry’ was released by Mono Media Films in 2015, I was contacted by DJ and record collector Tony Higgins. Tony has a wide and varied association with the world of jazz and the British variety in particular, so we had a catch up over a coffee in Soho. Tony, who had worked on the BBC 4 production ‘Jazz Britannia’ and the vinyl collection ‘Impressions’ with Gilles Peterson, was telling me how hard it was to get a new compilation released from the Decca/Universal vaults, which was frustrating as he knew some seriously good sounds were being forgotten.
Trust me, I felt his pain at the time. I too had hit a brick wall in trying to get ‘lost’ Tubby Hayes music released, that I knew was gathering dust in the vaults, to tie in with our film.
Anyway, as we jump forward five years or so to this blog, things have finally loosened up somewhat. Most of the ‘lost’ Tubby music saw the light of day in 2019, on an album entitled ‘Grits, Beans and Greens ‘ and Tony finally got his compilation to the market a few weeks ago on the Decca label. Entitled ‘Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain’ (1965 -72) it is simply a lovely thing to behold, I’m delighted to report.
Now, even as a jazz fan of some years, I’ll admit most of the tunes are new to me, and that is of course the joy of releases like this. It brings new names to the curious minded, so they can then go off and explore more, from a better-informed starting point. Personally, I can’t much see the point in yet another Miles Davis or John Coltrane compilation being released, despite how obviously talented those two gents are. No, for me, it’s all about discovery, so hats off to those working at Decca for their ‘Jazz Explosion Series’ and to the sterling work the guys at the ‘Jazz in Britain’ label are also doing, in bringing ‘old’ music to ‘new’ ears.
Of the few tracks that I knew on ‘Journeys in Modern Jazz,’ ‘Brew’ from the Collin Bates Trio and the majestic ‘Storm Warning’ by the Dick Morrisey Quartet were big favourites of mine, both of which have been sent my way, by mates over recent years, who are on the constant look out for tracks that have fell through the cracks over the years.
The ‘modernist’ performers offering their wares here would have operated in and around the London jazz scene of the time stated on the album, and in the main, would have had to hone their craft pretty much among themselves. Ideas would have been bouncing off each other, all being worked out in rehearsal rooms, putting their own stamp on the music. When you consider the limited access they would have to influential tracks back in the early 1960s, when most of these guys were learning their chops, they did a remarkable job of joining the dots, going by the 14 selections on offer here.
By 1965 when this comp starts, through an arrangement brokered by Pete King, business partner of Ronnie Scott, more and more American jazz greats were hitting our shores, enabling many of the names featured here, the chance to learn at their feet as it were. And man, did they pick up the baton and run with it. Step forward, Mike Westbrook, Barbara Thompson, Harry Beckett, Alan Skidmore, Michael Garrick, Michael Gibbs and Ian Carr to name but a few. A couple of the older heads in Stan Tracey and Johnny Dankworth, also produce work that can stand shoulder to shoulder with their contemporaries over the pond.
The resulting fresh, stimulating and vital music has stood the test of time very well. As always it seems, us creative Brits, soak up an original idea or an influence and then twist it slightly, thus coming up with something that is completely different and unique.
So, here is my ‘form guide’ from this two CD set.
1. Kenny Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra – ‘Don the Dreamer’ – Sounds every inch like a soundtrack of a mid-sixties US crime thriller, and it swings man!
2. Don Rendell Quintet – ‘A Matter of Time’ – My advice is to hold something very tight, as Don and the chaps are plainly not messing about here. From the ‘Spacewalk’ album. Fascinating.
3. Collin Bates Trio – ‘Brew’ – An intricate majestic head-nodder, which I personally return to time and time again. So so good.
4. John Surman and John Warren – ‘With Terry’s Help’ – We go deeper here and to my old ears, although a Coltrane influence can be heard, they still get a unique UK sound in amongst it.
5. Michael Garrick Sextet – ‘Second Coming’ – From the 1965 ‘Promises’ album, we get on the Avant Garde tip somewhat, but the head nod is still as strong as ever once you pick up the thread.
6. Mike Westbrook Concert Band – ‘Waltz (for Joanna)’ – Plucked from the 1969 album ‘Marching Songs Vol. 1’ we hear a marvellous, near six minutes of a band in complete control. Nothing short of tremendous.
7. Stan Tracey And His Big Band – ‘Matinee Days’ – Stan and the guys swing nicely here. Getting close to the edge of things on occasions but remaining in control at all times. A stellar line up of names on this session too.
8. Harry Beckett – ‘Third Road’ – A name some will know from his time guesting with Working Week, this is Harry stretching out on his 1970 album ‘Flare up.’ Listen to this, and it will result in as joyous a five minutes that you will have all week.
1. Neil Ardley, Ian Carr and Don Rendell – ‘Greek Variations’ – Seriously good this, again with a stellar line up playing on it, all performers at the top of their game.
2. The New Jazz Orchestra – ‘Angle’ – From 1969, this challenges you to see if you are up for the ‘listen’ with a central refrain that drags you back in, time and time and again.
3. Alan Skidmore Quintet – ‘Old San Juan’ – Very impressive ambition on this from 1969. 11.50 in length, therefore giving all on it, a chance to have a ‘blow.’
4. Dick Morrissey Quartet – ‘Storm Warning’ – From the album ‘Here and Now and Sounding Good,’ this is up there with anything in jazz I have heard in many years. Tune!
5. Mike Taylor Quartet – ‘To Segovia’ – A move to the more ‘uneasy’ listening tip, to give your ears a workout. I’ve found this to be a real grower in recent weeks.
6. Michael Gibbs – ‘Some Echoes, Some Shadows’ – The celebrated composer Gil Evans came to mind the first time I heard this, and that is no bad thing is it. The central groove just cannot be denied.
Added to the marvellous music on offer here, is the 20,000-word essay by Mr Higgins himself in the accompanying booklet. I’d certainly advise anyone looking to explore the jazz that the British have had to offer, to do themselves a favour, and pick up a copy of this, sharpish.
The Mumper of SE5
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