1970 Jazz in Britain

The late 1960s and early 1970s were an exciting period in British music. Pop and Rock music became more sophisticated and ambitious, musicians honed their performance skills and wrote long-form pieces of music, major record labels established subsidiaries to focus on progressive music, and best of all – the audience was ripe to accept and appreciate the new music. Jazz was on a parallel path in Britain, and many of the genre’s musicians found themselves guesting on pop and rock albums and recording on the same progressive labels. 1970 was a stellar year for jazz in Britain and in this article I will review some of my favorite British jazz albums from that year. We start with a debut album by a fantastic Rhodesian-born composer who settled in England in 1965.

The liner notes on that album say: “This is Mike Gibbs’ first album, and it gives considerable insight into the music of one of the most interesting composers in the whole of jazz. That might sound a very sweeping statement to make about a London-based Rhodesian but Gary Burton, Stan Getz and many others will attest to its truth.”

Indeed Gary Burton was a major proponent of Michael Gibbs’ music and featured it on his albums throughout his rich recording career. Michael Gibbs was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and studied in the US at Berklee College of Music (a 1963 graduate). During that time he attended the Lenox School of Music in Massachusetts, a legendary summer program that was previously attended by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Paul Bley, Steve Kuhn and many others. He came to London in 1965 and immersed himself in the city’s thriving jazz scene. He talked about that period:

“I had met Graham Collier [’63] at Berklee and within my first week in London, I started working in his band with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and drummer John Marshall. That introduced me to the local jazz musicians. While playing with a rehearsal band, I met saxophonist and bandleader John Dankworth who needed a trombonist to back his wife, singer Cleo Laine. We became friends and I started writing for John. After that, the BBC heard my music, I formed a band in 1968, and things never stopped.”

Michael Gibbs in the recording studio

In 1970 Michael Gibbs recorded and released his first, self-titled album. Like other British jazz musicians at the time, he was absorbing influences from the full range of the music spectrum, including the popular kind. He said of that debut album: “I did the album because I wanted to reach a wider audience. Most of the tunes were originally written for Gary Burton in America. At the time I wrote them, I was very much attracted to the whole mood and flavor of the pop world, especially the Beatles who influenced me in their break away from eight bar phrases which they did so naturally.”

The album includes the track “Some Echoes, Some Shadows (For John Dankworth)”, featuring solos by Ray Russell on guitar, Jack Bruce of Cream fame on bass, Chris Spedding on guitar and Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn. Gibbs said that he leaves it up to soloists to decide what to play on his tunes: “The sort of things they do are so much more satisfactory to my ear than what I might write.”

The tune showcases Gibbs’ fantastic ability to mix multiple genres, moods and tempos to create an ever-interesting arrangement. The CD release liner notes describe it: “This underlying tension creates a fascinating air of expectancy that demands the rapt attention of the listener – anything less and one would miss any number of subtle nuances and unexpected turns that are the hallmark of Gibbs’ exquisite and thoughtful writing.”

Collective credits for the album:

Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Bass Guitar – Chris Spedding

Bass Guitar – Brian Odges, Jack Bruce

Bass Trombone – Ken Goldy, Maurice Gee, Ray Premru

Cello – Alan Ford, Fred Alexander

Drums – John Marshall, Tony Oxley

Electric Guitar, Twelve-String Guitar – Ray Russell

French Horn – Alan Civil, Jim Buck Jr, Nicolas Busch, Valerie Smith

Keyboards – Mick Pyne, Bob Cornford

Percussion – Frank Ricotti

Reeds – Alan Skidmore, Barbara Thompson, Duncan Lamont, John Surman, Mike Osborne, Ray Warleigh, Tony Roberts

Trombone – Bobby Lambe, Chris Pyne, Cliff Hardie, David Horler

Trumpet  – John Wilbraham

Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Derek Watkins, Henry Lowther, Ian Hammer, Kenny Wheeler, Maurice Miller, Nigel Carter

Tuba – Dick Hart, Martin Fry

A review of the album in Jazz Journal magazine focused on the complexity of Gibbs’ compositions: “The pieces by Gibbs are quite involved compositions, and don’t give up all their attractions at a first hearing. He pays so much attention to detail and makes so many apparently unworkable contrasts between the delicate and the brutal, that the listener is likely to be baffled but exhilarated at a first hearing.” If you are listening to “Some Echoes, Some Shadows (For John Dankworth)” for the first time, that may resonate with you. However it does make for a very satisfactory experience, partly due to what the reviewer writes next: “What I find so splendid about his work is that, although there is such an air of excitement and inspired improvisation about everything, all is in fact well-ordered and maturely conceived.”

We move to another fine composer and arranger, whose ensemble featured many stellar British jazz musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Like many other British jazz artists, Mike Westbrook’s early influences came from across the pond, in his case he listened to the music of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk. Westbrook led ensembles in multiple formats since the early 1960s. In 1967 the BBC asked him to represent the UK at the Montreux Jazz Festival. In 1969 he released the epic album Marching Songs, an anti-war double album featuring a 20-piece orchestra. That album had multiple music publications raving about it. Coda Magazine: “It is, beyond any doubt the supreme achievement in jazz composition and arrangement to date.” “A milestone in jazz composition,” echoed the London Sunday Times. Melody Maker: “A resounding success, as well as being further proof that the British jazz scene has at last found its own feet through the playing of the young generation”. Jazz Journal: “Another personal triumph for Westbrook. He always seemed to have great sympathy for reeds, and his writing for them often reflects the gentle, ambulatory mood of his introspective piano. Rarely has he managed to write so effectively for brass as he does here.”

In 1970 Mike Westbrook’s Concert Band recorded and released the album Love Songs. It featured a similar, albeit smaller personnel to the one that recorded Marching Songs., with the addition of the delicate vocals of singer Norma Winstone. The group’s live shows could be described as multimedia experiments and they included theatrical special effects, pyrotechnics, tightrope walkers, high divers, animal acts, back projections and magic tricks. They also featured the gymnastic talents of Original Peter, an acrobat who used to perform handstands on chairs during jazz gigs. Westbrook dedicated one composition in the album to the acrobat.

Alto Saxophone – Mike Osborne

Baritone Saxophone – John Warren

Bass Guitar – Harry Miller

Piano – Mike Westbrook

Drums – Alan Jackson

Guitar – Chris Spedding

Tenor Saxophone – George Khan

Trombone – Malcolm Griffiths, Paul Rutherford

Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Dave Holdsworth

Vocals – Norma Winstone

Michael Gibbs and Mike Wesbrook both released their albums on the Deram label, the progressive music offshoot of Decca. This was a period when each of the major labels created a sublabel to focus on the emerging experimental rock scene that found an enthusiastic listening crowd in the late 1960s. House producer and A&R man Peter Eden, who started his career working with Donovan, was an important figure in the emergence of modern jazz in Britain around that time. After working with jazz artists such as John Surman, Gibbs and Westbrook at Deram, he started his own label Turtle Records. The label was short lived, releasing albums by Mike Osbourne, Howard Riley and John Taylor.

British jazz was starting to get noticed across the channel and even across the pond in 1970. Mike Westbrook and Michael Gibbs won DownBeat magazine’s Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition poll in 1970.

talent deserving of wider recognition, DownBeat August 1970

The trajectory of British jazz in the late 1960s was happening in parallel to that of progressive rock in the British Isles, with many jazz artists branching out to play on rock albums of the experimental kind. One of them was pianist and composer Keith Tippett, who was equally comfortable playing jazz, folk and rock. He is known for music fans outside of the British jazz niche for his contributions to three albums by King Crimson (In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands).

In 1970 Tippett recorded his band’s second album – Dedicated to You, But You Weren’t Listening, named after a tune written by Hugh Hopper for Soft Machine’s second album. It is evident upon hearing the music that the musicians had a great time working together in the recording studio, as Tippett fondly remembers in the album liner notes: “It was fantastic – everybody was leaping around, very happy. Not drunken… just merry. You can tell what it was like from the fade-outs. The tracks weren’t faded from musical reasons, but because we never wanted to stop playing.”

In addition to his band members Nick Evans, Marc Charig and Elton Dean, Tippett called upon a variety of rhythm section players, including Neville Whitehead on bass, Roy Babbington on bass guitar, Tony Uta on congas and cowbell, Bryan Spring, Phil Howard and Robert Wyatt on drums.

A mutual respect existed between Tippett and Robert Wyatt since 1969 when Tippett’s sextet and Wyatt’s group Soft Machine shared performance bills. Tippett: “Robert loved the sextet and I loved Soft Machine. Unusually for that time, they were playing in time signatures like 11, 7, 5, 13. But it wasn’t academic in any sense. It was music with warmth.”

The album artwork features one of Roger Dean’s early album covers. This is the year he drew the cover for Yes’ album Fragile, thus starting that celebrated band/illustrator relationship for years to come.

Keith Tippett – Piano, Electric Piano

Elton Dean – Alto Saxophone, Saxello

Neville Whitehead – Bass

Roy Babbington – Bass, Bass Guitar

Tony Uta – Congas, Cowbell

Marc Charig – Cornet

Bryan Spring, Phil Howard, Robert Wyatt – Drums

Gary Boyle – Guitar

Nick Evans – Trombone

Here is a great track from the album, Black Horse. Keith Tippett: “We were never overtly jazz-rock in the way that Nucleus were. We just happened to play sometimes with an 8 feel as opposed to a triplet feel. Black Horse has a funky feel to it and at that time it was kind of newish for jazz bands to be playing with that feel.” The original sleeve notes had this to say about the track: “the final track, Black Horse, is a staple of the band’s which Nick Evans arranged for the session. It’s the kind of cut that you’re still dancing to an hour after it’s over, with the horns coming down hard on the strong rhythm, and all through the band is one entity, one metabolism, breathing together.”

We remain with the same label and graphic designer and look at a debut album by a band already mentioned in this review. 1970 was a stellar year for Nucleus, a band formed by trumpet player and composer Ian Carr the previous year. Within a span of twelve months the band performed at two prestigious international jazz festivals: The Montreux festival in Switzerland, where they won the European Broadcasting Union prize, and the Newport Jazz festival in the US. They were also booked to perform at the Village Gate club in New York City, all healthy signs of acceptance by the jazz community outside of Britain. In January of 1970 the band recorded their debut album Elastic Rock, released by Vertigo Records, and again featuring an early illustration by Roger Dean.

The album sleeve notes explain the band’s music philosophy: “Nucleus is just what the word implies – a small tight knit group of musicians. We’re all closely involved with each other musically, and some of us have played together in different contexts before, but this is the first time we’ve met to try and realize our common musical ideals. We see music as a continuous process and have tried to express this on the album. We mean continuous not simply in the physical sense of non-stop sets, but in the general sense, that we don’t recognize rigid boundaries, but try to use our total musical experience, whatever it might be.”

Baritone Saxophone, Oboe, Piano, Electric Piano – Karl Jenkins

Bass, Electric Bass – Jeff Clyne

Drums, Percussion – John Marshall

Guitar – Chris Spedding

Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Brian Smith

Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Ian Carr

The title track was composed by multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins, who plays baritone sax, oboe and piano on the album. He later became a key member of the band Soft Machine.

Ian Carr is our link to the next album, Greek Variations & Other Aegean Exercises, which is attributed to three musicians: Neil Ardley, Ian Carr & Don Rendell. Each musician leads one section of the album, all inspired by Greek folk songs. Carr and Rendell have been working together in their co-led quintet since 1963. During the 1960s they both played in The New Jazz Orchestra, a big band led by Neil Ardley.

The first side of the LP is dedicated to one long composition written by Neil Ardley, broken into six parts. It features a fourteen-piece chamber orchestra featuring Rendell and Carr, plus a supporting cast of creme de la creme British musicians including Jack Bruce, Barbara Thompson, Karl Jenkins, Michael Gibbs, John Marshall and others.

Neil Ardley writes about this fantastic composition in the album liner notes: “The Greek Variations was composed in 1969 to feature Don Rendell and Ian Carr with chamber jazz orchestra. It comprises a series of variations on the Greek folk tune, and as the variations develop away from this tune so the basis for jazz improvisation becomes freer. The basic tune as used (played on flute with accompanying sheep bells) is the call sign of the Greek radio service, and anyone who knows Greece will surely have heard it piping out, precisely on the hour, from a nearby villa or café.”

Neil Ardley

Neil Ardley’s website describes this composition:

An undercurrent of brooding turbulence surfaces at various points in the “Variations” suite, as though some sort of tidal wave might erupt from the Aegean at any moment, but at other times the mood is sunnier and vivacious (or delicately moonlit), and there are lovely solo passages, both improvised and composed, from Frank Ricotti on marimba/vibraphone, Karl Jenkins on oboe, Rendell on alto flute (on which he has a voice as distinctive as on tenor sax) and Carr on flugelhorn. Comparisons with the Miles Davis and Gil Evans collaborations inevitably spring to mind.

The next album has its roots in South Africa of the early 1960s. Chris McGregor was one of a number of jazz musicians who formed the band Blue Notes in Capetown in the early 1960s. The band also included Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Louis Moholo. During a European tour in 1964 they decided to stay in the continent where a mixed race band was welcome, unlike in their home country. They moved to London and in 1970 McGregor formed Brotherhood of Breath, adding some of Britain’s finest jazz musicians. They were described as a “mixture of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Sun Ra but retained a unique feel due to the South African influences and the intelligent arrangements.”

The band’s self-titled debut album was released on RCA’s Neon label, which famed producer Joe Boyd labeled “their new label for weird shit”.

Melody Maker wrote in 1971: “Probably the most exciting band of any kind in London at the present”.

The credits list on this album will make any fan of that period’s British jazz scene drool:

Chris McGregor – leader, piano, African xylophone

Malcolm Griffiths – trombone

Nick Evans – trombone

Mongezi Feza – pocket trumpet, Indian flute

Mark Charig – cornet

Harry Beckett – trumpet

Dudu Pukwana – alto saxophone

Ronnie Beer – tenor saxophone, Indian flute

Alan Skidmore – tenor and soprano saxophone

Harry Miller – bass

Louis Moholo – drums, percussion

Mike Osborne – alto saxophone, clarinet

John Surman – baritone and soprano

Producer – Joe Boyd

A review of the album in the British Jazz Journal singled out drummer Louis Moholo: “Heard live, Moholo often overwhelms his colleagues but, in so doing, gives the band a unique extra dimension. The way he plays fractionally ahead of the beat creates an inner tension and is ideal for the Brotherhood.”

We remain with Ian Carr and Don Rendell and move to a beautiful album by their quintet’s pianist, Michael Garrick. A graduate in English Literature, Garrick was keen on marrying jazz music with words. In 1961 he was music director for Poetry and Jazz in Concert, a live music program that featured readings of poetry set to jazz. Garrick wrote in his book Dusk Fire: Jazz in English Hands: “I was moved by the melancholy that inhabits a lot that English literature and its closeness to the realities of life. I thought there’s richness in English culture which is being ignored by all the jazz I’d heard; English musicians were just inhabiting the Americans who were obviously much better at doing what was their own thing. If we were going to be true to ourselves, I felt that we ought to draw on our own culture.”

In 1966 Garrick formed a sextet that included singer Norma Winstone, utilizing her voice as a frontline instrument. In 1970 the group released the album “The Heart Is a Lotus”.

Michael Garrick composed and arranged a series of songs for this album that is equally influenced by modern jazz arrangers such as Gil Evans, and early 20th century classical music and romantic composers from the British Isles including Ralph Vaughan Williams and Frederick Delius. He wrote these notes about the subject of the lyrics: “The heart is a lotus in that it opens to love as the flower does to the warmth of the sun. This album is to do with such an opening and closing.”

The album liner notes say of Michael Garrick: “He is, first, a romantic in an age when jagged sounds and harsh cadences have been the dominant innovations in music generally. And the pieces on this record loosely form a romantic love cycle – from the beginning of love to the final parting.”

Michael Garrick and Norma Winstone

Part of the music on the album was performed in 1968 as instrumental tracks by most of the same musicians sans Norma Winstone. It was later released on the album “Prelude To Heart Is A Lotus”. The sleeve notes to that album say this about the beautiful title track: “The Heart is a Lotus, with Garrick on not piano but harpsichord, has an underlying skippingly-asymmetrical feel to it, akin to the time experiments begun by Dave Brubeck in the late 1950s. But there’s also a slight air of what can only be interpreted as menace or noir-ish foreboding. There’s a definite affinity to the John Barry school of film music writing current at the time and Barry’s themes for films such as The Ipcress File. But another more abiding stream running through Heart is a Lotus in its entirety is the modal music of Miles Davis, especially easy to detect in the general musical atmosphere of the title track.

Clarinet – Art Themen, Jim Philip

Double Bass – Coleridge Goode, Dave Green

Drums – Trevor Tomkins

Flugelhorn – Ian Carr

Flute – Art Themen, Don Rendell, Jim Philip

Harpsichord – Michael Garrick

Piano – Michael Garrick

Saxophone – Art Themen, Don Rendell, Jim Philip

Trumpet – Ian Carr

Vocals – Norma Winstone

Our last review is dedicated to bass player and composer Graham Collier and the debut album by his group Graham Collier Music. Like some of the other musicians reviewed in this article, Collier got a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated in 1963. Upon his return to England he formed his own band and after releasing albums in the late 1960s as the Graham Collier Septet and Sextet, he decided to form a group of varying number of instruments and musicians, naming it Graham Collier Music.

In the mid-1970s Collier stopped playing the bass as a result of a knee surgery that impeded his ability to stand and play the instrument. He focused on writing, and later mentioned the album reviewed here as the first major step in his path to composing long pieces of music: “There is a difference between before and after (stopping to play bass) but what I wanted to do in a way was to write longer form music. The proof is in things like Mosaics and Songs for My Father, which were suites and had their own identity.”

The record is made up of instrumental tracks which can be played at a random order. Collier explains: “The new material is a series of musically connected pieces which can, by judicious use of linking cadenzas, be played in any order. Although the order was pre-determined for the recording, in performance we choose as we go along.”

Graham Collier – bass

Harry Beckett – trumpet, flugelhorn

Alan Wakeman – soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone

Bob Sydor – alto saxophone, tenor saxophone

John Taylor – piano

John Webb – drums

Derek Wadsworth – trombone

Alan Skidmore, Tony Roberts – tenor saxophone Phil Lee – guitar

Categories: A Year in Music

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3 replies »

  1. I was a big fan of the British jazz scene as Phila high Schooler in the 70’s. Soft machine was my favorite band but chris mcgregor was close behind. The mix of african players, rock ideas and jazz was really happening in the Uk scene more than anywhere else.

  2. Adoro il Jazz Rock inglese dei primi anni 70, in particolare Keith Tippet Group, Centipede, Just Us, Soft M. , Nucleus . Elton Dean il mio artista preferito, assolo sulla 4^ di Centipede è immenso.

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