Selection: Crumblin’ Cookie
. . .
Graham Collier: bass, arrangements; Dave Aaron, alto saxophone, flute; Karl Jenkins, baritone saxophone, oboe; John Marshall, drums; Philip Lee, guitar; Michael Gibbs, trombone; trumpet, flugelhorn, Harry Beckett (tracks: A1, A3, A4), Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A2, B1, B2) Recorded January 15, 18 & 24, 1967, at Jackson Studios, producers John and Malcolm Jackson; sleeve design, Gillian Jackson.
The second half of the ’60s found breakaway-British jazz forms establishing their own trajectory, as with Ian Carr Don Rendell Michael Garrick. and this group, Graham Collier band. This rich seam of invention left a legacy of quirky British Jazz, which within a few years had mutated into jazz rock fusion and progressive rock This album features a
young middle-aged Kenny Wheeler, and Harry Beckett on alternate tracks, along with others from the vibrant British jazz scene of the late 1960s, including Michael Gibbs, Phil Lee and Karl Jenkins..
Artist of Note 1 – Graham Collier
Graham Collier, bassist, composer arranger, Britain’s answer to Charles Mingus, though no-one is quite sure what the question was, or indeed who asked it.. Born in England’s gritty North East, the young Collier joined the British Army as a musician, spending three years in Hong Kong playing trumpet and double bass. Why the British army needed musicians in Hong Kong remains unclear, but it left us a useful legacy. On his return, the resourceful Collier won a Down Beat magazine scholarship to the Berklee School of Music, Boston, and was its first British graduate in 1963.
He made his debut album on vinyl in 1967. Deep Dark Blue Centre (Decca/ Deram). John Fordham picks up the story in his insightful obituary of Collier (d.2011)
“Collier’s early groups made innovative recordings that have become cult classics, including the live sets from 1968 and 1975 issued on the US Cuneiform label under the title Workpoints. These pieces revealed his devotion to Ellington, Mingus and the Miles Davis/Gil Evans bands, but recast in a distinctively European harmonic language, and explored Britain’s newly emerging crossovers of jazz and rock.
Collier’s discography of just short of 20 albums extends over 30 years, much of it into the era of the Evil Silver Disc. His later works from the mid ’80s do not attract the same critical acclaim as his early work, toying with “palette-expanding but ultimately cheesy synthesisers”, ageing prog-rock motifs and “fusion 101” “(All Music).
The later half of the ’60s was a uniquely creative time. Its musical foundation had been laid in the first half of the decade, the cast of players had taken their positions, all the right forces were in place, and distinctly Brit-Jazz took off. If ultimately it lost its way, that should cause no surprise, perhaps everything always does. The trick is picking out the bits that haven’t.
Collier was given numerous prestigious international commissions, was awarded lifetime achievement recognition (Order of the British Empire), and professorial appointments at the Royal Academy of Music, which marked his major contribution as an educator and incubator of young talent, passing the baton to the next generation.
Artist of note 2 – Karl Jenkins (baritone sax in the selection Crumblin’ Cookie):
Composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins fell in with the London jazz scene of the late ’60s while studying at the Royal Academy of Music. He spent time in a number of jazz groups including the Graham Collier Band and Ian Carr’s Nucleus before navigating the following decade with drummer John Marshall in Britain’s ultimate prog-rock-psych-free-form jazz fusion band, The Soft Machine, the highlight of the Canterbury music scene.
Canterbury? Someone say Canterbury? Historic English cathedral city of Kent, about fifty miles south-east of London. Some very notable “Canterbury Scene” bands were Soft Machine, Caravan, Matching Mole, Egg, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, and many others.
Note: it was not actually necessary to grow up in or live in Canterbury to be part of The Canterbury Scene. Canterbury was just a state of mind in the progressive rock music genre which dominated the 70s. I think of it as Student Rock.
For historical reference: Soft Machine, formed in 1966 and reformed 2015 below, highlights the most important element of prog-rock, the haircut. Prog-rock was not destined to last. Sadly, nor was its crowning glory, the boys’ hair.
Soft Machine went through thirty changes in membership, including notables Kevin Ayres, Daevid Allen, Mike Ratledge, Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, Elton Dean, Robert Wyatt, and Hugh Hopper. Prog rock is still a uniquely British collectable genre that has helped keep second-hand record shops, Discogs sellers and Ebay dealers alive for decades.
Other members of the Graham Collier Septet:
Collier’s guitarist, Phil Lee, went on to the band Gilgamesh, with drummer Trevor Tomkins, who was heard earlier with Ian Carr, Don Rendell and Michael Garrick. South African Michael Gibbs, trombone, went on to form his rock-oriented jazz orchestra.; Canadian saxophonist Dave Aaron continues to work as a “freelance saxophonist” in varied musical settings.
All About Jazz notes “the quasi-impressionistic tones of Deep Dark Blue Centre echo the work of Gil Evans, albeit with a more rhythmically animated sense”
A bassist in the Mingus mode and one of the most important British jazz composers and arrangers, Graham Collier boasts a discography the envy of many of his contemporaries. Allmusic says of Collier’s early work: “his wonderfully diverse compositions are waiting to be discovered by a new generation, as his timeless, carefully crafted structures are charmingly alluring.” “There are contrapuntal lines, complex rhythms tempered by a gentleness and glazed by simultaneous improvisations. The strong personalities of the soloists ensure individuality, while the juxtaposition of the flute, guitar, and trumpet lend a light air to some of the tracks”.
Collier achieves something akin to Mingus, who in his titles like Mingus 5 and Black Saint, paints an orchestral urban landscape, night lights, smoke, distant horns, soloists emerging and subsiding like passing strangers on darkened streets. Collier’s Septet lays out a similar large canvas, passing encounters with Gibbs’ trombone or Wheeler’s flugelhorn, nervous energy, multiple textures, tangential forays, bursts of sound, call and echo, composed sections jostle against the improvised. It is spacious, both loose and structured, takes time for it to take shape, repeat play, and still there is more to find as you dig under the surface.
Why a Septet? Collier notes: It was all he could afford. With artful arrangement and direction, it sounds much more. I am happy to put Deep Dark Blue Centre in the same league as Garrick/Carr/Rendell. Well, near enough.
Vinyl: Decca Deram SML 1005 stereo
Solid Decca engineering, New Malden magic, vinyl was made for this.
Purchased originally from: Jarrolds Department Store, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, which is nowhere near Canterbury, but demographically not dissimilar. 1960s department stores in provincial university towns all seemed to have record departments, catering for the music tastes of the local student population. Canterbury, to pick a town at random, has the highest student-to-resident ratio in England, one in five of the local adult population. Nice place I believe, apart from being overrun by students.
This record was quite, well, very expensive, an iconic British jazz record. Not the trophy-league, but comfortably into three figures. A friend asked why I bought it? At a loss for a straight answer, I put it down to instinct, as I didn’t know Collier or any of his works. The label Deram was a good omen, the year 1967 hit the right spot creatively, the presence of Kenny Wheeler and Harry Beckett offered the thread of musical legitimacy, and, um… I liked the cover. Sometimes you just have to go with it. As I say repeatedly, see it buy it, you may never see it again.
Another friend, who can recite the discography and probably every personnel change of every Soft Machine record ever released, knew nothing of Collier, but leapt apon the names Karl Jenkins and John Marshall, names which meant nothing to me. Ah yes, so and so appears on Soft Machine 5, but completely different to 2 and 3, and by the time so and so joined 7. You Prog Rock People! Gilgamesh? Prog-rock has its own arcane knowledge base and is a big club of which I am not a member, but it is the music many of us of a certain age grew up with. Perhaps I should give it a go. But where to begin, Soft Machine 1? Is this a good idea, I’ve run out of instinct. Can Jazz and Prog Rock ever really be friends?
UPDATE: Coming shortly, new LJC Student Edition!
Launch issue late 2019, after gap year. Free woolly hat offer.