Michael Garrick Sextet: Prelude to Heart Is A Lotus (1968) Gearbox (2015) – updated


Selection: Sweet and Sugary Candy (12:26)

.  .  .

Selection, a quintessentially British jaunty swinger, worthy of Tubby at Ronnies.

Artists

Michael Garrick – piano, harpsichord, celeste; Don Rendell – soprano and alto sax, flute; Ian Carr – trumpet; Coleridge Goode – double bass; Jim Philip – flute; Trevor Tomkins – percussion; recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios, October 1968.

BBC Maida Vale Studios: extravagant classical grandeur, TV license-fee funding.

Music

Exactly fifty years ago the Great British Jazz Experiment was proceeding well, unhooking from the Mother-ship of American jazz. Our new British flagship was the combination of  pianist Michael Garrick, trumpeter Ian Carr and saxophonist Don Rendell. The emphasis was acoustic instrumental craftsmanship within original compositions, a fabric woven of different timbres – soprano and alto sax, flute, piano and like variations. The Carr-Rendell-Garrick team  series of EMI Lansdowne albums of the late sixties remain the most sought after in the British jazz canon, so it was a delight to find some of this gorgeous material, in affordable vinyl form, thanks to Gearbox Records.

Gearbox Records obtained access to music recorded for radio by the BBC, who recorded the Garrick ensemble numerous occasions ( I count seventeen recorded sessions in the BBC database) for radio broadcast during the late ’60s and early ’70s, for programmes with names like Jazz Club, The Jazz Scene, Jazz Line Up, Jazz Parade, Jazz Workshop, and Jazz In Britain, fronted by jazz stalwarts Humphrey Lyttleton or Miles Kington . Good time to own a radio.

The title track of the BBC Prelude recording, Heart is a Lotus, is the common thread with a commercial release under the same name a little over two years later, The Heart Is A Lotus, recorded 20-22 January, 1970. Here the similarity stops, as the later album has only two further songs in common with The BBC Prelude, and the later recording line up includes vocals. Lots of it.

The Argo label Heart Is A Lotus – Norma Winstone  sings on tracks: A1, A2, A4, B1, B2, B3.

A1 The Heart Is A Lotus
A2 Song By The Sea
A3 Torrent
A4 Temple Dancer
B1 Blues On Blues
B2 Voices
B3 Beautiful Thing
B4 Rustat’s Grave Song

For better or worse, Garrick used Norma Winstone’s voice as a frontline instrument, sometimes in harmony with saxophonist Art Themen. Six of eight tracks on the 1970 release feature Norma singing.There are Norma fans, nothing against the lady, but I’m not one for singing or jazz-poetry reading. Of 1500 jazz records, I think I have two records which feature vocals. No cocktail-dress beeboopidoop dadadudah or mystic muse at the mic for me. The Prelude session is 100% vocal-free, and that means more music from Garrick/ Carr/ Rendell, which is my preference between the two titles.

Not everyone shares my aversion to vocals. A Discogs commenter reviewed the 1970 Argo thus : “HOLY GRAIL! A UNIQUE RECORD, MELTING POETRY, VOCALS AND HYPNOTIC JAZZ WITH A DEEP CLAVINET.” They also type in capitals, which I find disturbing, SHOUTING. It’s not just bad etiquette, it’s as though the words chosen aren’t enough for them. Rather than find better words to express more vividly what they mean, they shout instead. Tetchy, me?

Garrick plays the title track on both recording sessions on harpsichord, which is why I haven’t chosen it for the selection. I’ve listened it through may be a half dozen times, and I still dislike the sound of the instrument. In the interest of balance – it’s for you to decide what you like, not me – there is a YouTube of The Heart complete with Norma’s poetic reading

The harpsichord was the lead instrument in European baroque music (1600-1760) from composers like Bach, Handel, Purcell, and Vivaldi. Whether it belongs in “jazz” is another question. Personally, it’s a distraction from the music, plunging  into costume drama, powdered wig and snuff box, cue Play Bach. Good morrow, LJC. Gadzooks, pray pardon me, I’ve split my breeches! I must  away find me a seamstress, fare thee well!

Enough of the negatives. The Garrick compositions are all melodic quirky originals, bringing together his interest in jazz, classicism, middle-eastern and Indian influences and liturgical music, bound together with unbending personal conviction. A rich musical seam, they take time to absorb.

The interplay between the composition and the musicians –  Garrick, Carr and Rendell – is inspired. Carr has a full rich tone, leaning towards flugelhorn,  Rendell gives the upper-register sax an exhausting work out, ranging between Sidney Bechet and Indian snake-charmer; acoustic bass and drums are  propulsive and suspenseful. I like to think this time and music was Britain’s Kind Of Blue moment, or Red White and Blue moment, just typically ten years late.

By the early 70’s, the pied piper of jazz rock fusion drew Ian Carr off to form Nucleus, rock tempo electric bass electric piano combo. Rendell recorded intermittently but found a new direction in teaching. Garrick, ever searching for new directions, started his own label (Jazz Academy), started his own jazz school, and toured tirelessly. However, the brief magical spider’s web of the Michael Garrick Sextet was no more.

Vinyl: Gearbox Records GB 1517

According to the liner notes, cut on a Haeco Scully lathe with Westrex RA1700 series amps, Westrex 3DIIA cutting head and Telefunken U73B tube limiter, Maselec master control and equalisation. I assume that’s good, IANAE, I Am Not An Engineer.

Daryl Sheinman’s Gearbox Records is a unique niche British label which sources some of its material from BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) radio recordings from the 50s and 60s, including Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Ronnie Scott, Yusef Lateef, Dexter Gordon, yet more Norma Winstone, and a forthcoming Thelonious Monk album of previously unreleased material recorded in Copenhagen 1963, “tapes rescued from a skip”.

Gearbox feature all-analog engineering process cut at Sheinman’s Kings Cross studios, and pressed on heavy vinyl. Everything ticks all the right audiophile boxes within the limitation of  the source recordings, which were intended for radio broadcast, and tend to sound just that.

 IANAE. According to music engineer Mark Bolles, “the maximum frequency response of radio in the 1960s was 40 – 5,000 Hz, with a 50 dB signal–to-noise  ratio. … Average frequencies broadcast were between 800-3,000 Hz to emphasize the vocal.” 

BBC recording engineers would have been well aware of these characteristics and what they produced is to my ear  “not the full audiophile shilling”.  The engineering offers a room-filling stereo sound-stage, with good dynamic and tonal range, though I find the end of range frequencies missing.  I am very cranky about top-end performance, which is theoretically inaudible, If I had a dog, which I don’t, my dog would give it the paws down, but the human ear adjusts with listening, and it sounds quite acceptable, and the music more than repays your time.

Collector’s Corner

When I first played this record through it sounded a bit sonically dull to me. However, I hadn’t demagnetized my cartridge for nearly three months. Duh. A 15-second blast through the coils quickly restored the cartridge’s  natural freshness, and re-listening, the Gearbox was a pleasant surprise.

Magnetization is a gradual process that creeps up on you over several months. The difference after demagnetization is startling. (Full story here.) I reckon it’s the best bang-for-buck HiFi tweak available; just remember to do it every couple of months. If you have never had your cartridge demagnetized, you are in for one big surprise.  – MC moving coil cartridges only! Not for moving magnet cartridges, obviously, they are supposed to be magnetized. It’s how they work – demagnetizing them is not a good idea.

So far I have probably managed to offend fans of Norma Winstone, jazz vocalists in general, BBC radio engineers, and lovers of the harpsichord . Not bad for just one post, but let’s see what readers think. The floor is yours.

UPDATE September 26, 2018

LJC reader Harry was on board the Great British Jazz Experiment train at the time, and has kindly sent in some pictures of the Garrick Carr Rendell team in action, at the Bracknell Jazz Festival 1968. Why Bracknell was the epicentre of the jazz scene defeats me. UK Home of some very last century companies including Honeywell, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, Siemens, Vodafone and Honda.  Juan-les-Pins/Antibes, Montreux,or Newport, yes, but Bracknell?  Anyway, it was thus:  we present Bracknell Jazz at its very best:

Ian Carr Don Rendell Quintet Sunbury 1968 2.jpg

Ian Carr & Don Rendell Sunbury 1968 - 1 Harry Monty.jpg

Brilliant! Thank you so much, Harry.

LJC

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Michael Garrick Sextet: Prelude to Heart Is A Lotus (1968) Gearbox (2015) – updated

  1. Now don’t go knocking The Heart is a Lotus because of the vocals and harpsichord. It’s a cracking record and Art Themen makes a significant contribution to it, especially on Temple Dancer, while still holding down his day job as a hospital doctor.

    Oh yeah, and don’t forget Ian Carr put his horn through a wah-wah peddle on some of the tracks!

  2. the five lp box of the Lansdowne Rendell Carrs is coming out in November, £89. Now tell me that is not the greatest contributors sentence ever written in your awesome blog.

  3. II bought the record a few months ago and felt quite disappointed. For my ears the balance between instruments is not ok, the bass is much too loud and trumpet and saxophone sound dull and thin. And I am quite sure there is a second saxophonist on some tunes. Didn’t you recognize?

  4. I remember reading that ‘Heart Is A Lotus’ was Garrick’s best selling Argo LP – and even that was for not much over 1000 copies.

  5. The average frequency broadcast you reference is in response to AM radio, not FM as used by BBC Radio3. FM is limited at 15kHz, far greater and more acceptable than AM’s 3kHz. But I agree with your general point, I also find BBC sessions often lack absolute frequency extremes and sound pleasant rather than exciting. The Back Door session on Gearbox exhibits similar constraints, making the band sound a bit lack lustre.

    Reagardless, I’m glad Gearbox have issued this session. I wish they would license a few more. Any Mike Taylor or Mike Osbourne?

  6. Nice session — I am a Winstone fan but this record does just fine without her. My experience with Gearbox LPs is that they can tend toward the crackly out of the box, and even after a cleaning or two.

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