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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 7 April 2011

The Golden Age of British Jazz (1968-1973)

by Félix-Antoine Hamel / April 1, 2011

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Kenny Wheeler & the John Dankworth Orchestra: Windmill Tilter
BGO CD944 (www.bgo-records.com)

In 1950, Toronto trumpeter Kenny Wheeler arrived in London, where he played in late saxophonist John Dankworth’s orchestra from 1959-1963. In 1968, the latter commissioned Wheeler to write a suite inspired by the adventures of Don Quixote, entitled Windmill Tilter and recorded on CD, the first of which was released under the trumpeter’s name. The orchestral language that Wheeler would later assert in his albums Song for Someone (1973) and Music for Large & Small Ensembles (1990) is already well laid-out on this album—therefore a mature work, not a first attempt for the 38 year-old musician. Connoisseurs of his music will recognize the floating and mournful qualities of the spacious melodies in the suite, of which the interpretation includes a certain swing. Performed by an experienced big band, the score leaves the good parts to the soloists: Wheeler, Dankworth (alto), Chris Pyne (trombone), Tony Roberts (tenor), without forgetting the great Tony Coe (tenor and clarinet)—who evokes his idol, Paul Gonsalves. On the rhythmic side, we notice two young talents destined for glory: John McLaughlin and Dave Holland. Hence, this reedition, carefully restored by the original bands that were thought lost, deserves recognition.

John Surman: Flashpoint
NDR Jazz Workshop – April 1969
Cuneiform RUNE 315/316 (cuneiformrecords.com)

An unmistakable figure of British jazz, John Surman was, in 1969, hailed by all and on the brink of founding one of the marking ensembles of the time, The Trio. Invited by the German radio channel NDR, Surman had not only reunited many close collaborators (saxophonists Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore, trombonist Malcolm Griffiths, double-bassist Harry Miller and drummer Alan Jackson) but also two veterans of the London scene (tenor Ronnie Scott and Wheeler) and two Austrians (trombonist Erich Kleinschuster and pianist Fritz Pauer). The American label Cuneiform has only just broadcasted a 40-minute television show filmed in Hamburg and published it in both visual (DVD) and audio (CD) formats. The compositions (three by Surman and one each by the two Viennese) generally combine the modal harmonies that were trending at the time; of the five pieces, four break the eight-minute barrier, with the exception of Kleinschuster’s short Puzzle, a work clearly influenced by the language of orchestral bop à la Gillepsie, but enhanced with an exciting solo by Griffiths. As the title of the show suggests, it is a workshop—the DVD allows us to see just how the musicians discuss interpretive details. For jazz lovers, especially of that era, the disc is a must, but all jazz amateurs will be just as satisfied.

Soft Machine: NDR Jazz Workshop – Hamburg, Germany 1973
Cuneiform Rune 305/306 (cuneiformrecords.com)

Taken from the same archives and also published in a CD/DVD double format, this television capture seizes the progressive jazz-rock group Soft Machine in the middle of their transition period, just following saxophonist Elton Dean’s departure but preceding guitarist Allan Holdsworth’s arrival. Keyboardist Mike Ratledge is the soul of the group, but we have to appreciate Dean’s replacement, Karl Jenkins, who transitions with ease from baritone to soprano sax, oboe and even keyboard. Split in two parts, the program comprises two long uninterrupted suites. Note however that the content of the CD differs from that of the DVD, some of the footage not having survived. The original quartet (Ratledge, Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall) is first heard, and then joined by two guests in the second half, Gary Boyle (guitar) and Art Themen (sax). The DVD also includes two bonus audio tracks, the one with Hopper, the other a collective improvisation. Without being essential, this document will nonetheless captivate fusion jazz and progressive rock fanatics.

[Translation: Catherine Hine]

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