UPDATED 20/12/18 Photos Of Westbrook Band 1968 (see foot of post) and review of RSD titles.
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Artists: Mike Westbrook’s Concert Band
Mike Osborne – alto saxophone, clarinet; Bernie Living – alto saxophone, flute, piccolo flute; John Surman – baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone; Barre Phillips, Chris Laurence, Harry Miller – bass; Alan Jackson, John Marshall – drums; Tom Bennelick – french horn; Mike Westbrook – piano; Brian Smith, Nisar Ahmed Khan – tenor saxophone; Alan Skidmore – tenor saxophone, flute; Eddie Harvey, Malcolm Griffiths, Michael Gibbs, Paul Rutherford – trombone; Greg Bowen, Henry Lowther, Ronnie Hughes, Tony Fisher – trumpet; Dave Holdsworth, Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, flugelhorn; George Smith, Martin Fry – tuba. Composed by Mike Westbrook,
Recorded March 31, April 1 and 10, 1969, recording engineer Bill Price.
Artist Profile: Mike Westbrook
Richard Williams, the excellent jazz writer, gives his take on Mike Westbrook. William’s blog ‘The Blue Moment” is essential reading (in addition to LJC, of course)
“Of all the many fine British modern jazz records made in the last 50 years, the ones that probably most deserve to survive another half-century are Mike Westbrook’s large-scale pieces, including Metropolis, Citadel/Room 315 and The Cortège. In a sense, Marching Song is where it all began: released in its entirety as two LPs on the Deram label in 1969, representing a statement of scale and intent. And of moral purpose, too: this is every bit as much a portrait of the pity and horror of war as Picasso’s Guernica, making a similarly startling use of modernist techniques.”
Born in Home Counties High Wycombe, Mike Westbrook grew up in Torquay, was educated at the Devon market town of Tavistock, and formed his first band while studying in Plymouth. Readers may recall the British student prog-rock focus of the Canterbury Sound. Well, Plymouth is a safe distance from Canterbury, 380 kilometres as the crow flies. Plymouth is best known as the setting off point of The Mayflower in 1620, a two month sea-journey loaded up with pilgrims, soon-to-be-“Americans”
Three decades before The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, in 1588, Sir Francis Drake took on the Spanish Armada. With the Spanish fleet sighted in the English Channel, he was said to have insisted on finishing his game of bowls before taking on and defeating the mighty Spanish fleet. A “good war”, depending on whose side you took. No doubt the bowling green at Plymouth Hoe would have been occupied by anti-war protestors, but for their inability to decide which Empire, The British or The Spanish, was the most imperialist.
The sound of the West Country – Devon, Dorrrzet, Corrrnwall an’ Brrristol. Plymouth, county of Devon – famous for pasties, clotted cream teas, and of course apple juice with a hangover, ziderrr. Visitors expecting West Country hospitality should familiarise themselves with the local cheery greeting – “gerrorf moi lan’ “!
Lack of potential for jazz artists in the West Country took young Westbrook to London in the ’60s, where he made his mark as composer for a series of albums for Decca’s progressive Deram label 1967-70: Celebration, Release, Marching Song, and Love Songs.
Westbrook is still with us and working in his early 80’s. Benefit of all that West Country fresh air I expect, and, thus far, the absence of war, thanks to those anti-war activists?
Marching Song was issued in 1969 as a two volume release, in both mono and stereo, followed later by a gatefold “compilation” of the two volumes, the cover of which is emboldened with Westbrook’s “anti-war” credentials: “AN ANTI-WAR JAZZ SYMPHONY”, complete with a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badge. Unilateral Disarmament, Mike? Always the unanswered question.
The composition was premiered fittingly in Plymouth, which for over six centuries has been the home of the British Royal Navy, whose Devonport base houses surface warships and nuclear submarines, and hosts periodic visits by US Navy warships.
Marching Song is a concept album on the theme of the “vainglorious futility of war” (according to music critic and Ian Carr/Nucleus flag-carrier Roger Farbey). Replete with marching songs, battlefield effects, children’s crayon art depicting war and what looks like a military rally in art-effect monochrome on the back.
War is, like, really really bad, a common ’60s cultural meme, fuelled by the protest-igniting war in Indochina. The Anti-war Movement, in the late 1960s, became increasingly radical as activists felt their demands were ignored, and peaceful demonstrations began to turn violent.
Roger Farbey has neatly summarised the musical proceedings in Marching Song Volume 1, and it seems redundant to repeat the exercise so I reproduce it here:
“Volume 1’s “Hooray!” begins with roaring crowd noise, years before sampling was even heard of… Then come the drums, beating in unison courtesy of John Marshall and Alan Jackson. “Landscape” begins with Westbrook alone on piano but a highlight of this longish piece is the arco bass duet featuring Barre Phillips and Harry Miller sounding surprisingly like a string quartet to the unaware.
“Waltz (for Joanna)” is a gorgeous piece of writing embellished by a peerless soaring soprano solo by Surman. Following a sombre short ensemble link track, “Landscape II,” Paul Rutherford produces an appropriately free trombone solo on “Other World.” Volume 1’s concluding title track is again a stirring theme prefaced by synchronized military-style twin drum kits and coruscating solos from Nisar Ahmad Khan (aka George Khan) and Alan Skidmore, rejoined by a typically spectacular ensemble section.”
Vinyl: Deram DML 1047
Decca pressing, original, mono.
Mono inner sleeve (red, as seen through the hole in the back cover)
For historical interest, the back cover of Marching Song is a picture of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, one assumes a military rally, looks like hung with lots of Christmas bunting, not obviously Nazi so perhaps earlier. It contrasts with the state the Red Army found it in 1945 (below right). Another side effect of war, it is really really bad to architecture.
On a different note, (I won’t mention War again, or the West Country), Record Store Day.
Record Store Day (late in November) this year produced some interesting limited edition titles, including a reissue of two very scarce Eric Dolphy titles recorded for Alan Douglas for United Artists in and around 1962 and some previously unissued studio sessions . The Douglas UA series is best known for its unique one-off line-ups such as Ellington/Mingus “Money Jungle”, and Evans/Hall “Undercurrent”, but I have found the US pressing generally unsatisfactory, noisy, which did the underlying work no favours, and the recording engineering not always great. British pressings were worse. So I was very interested to hear what Bernie Grundman mastering and Music Matters affiliate RTI pressing have been able to achieve.
I have just snapped up set 2889 of 3000. And a companion RSD issue of Cannonball Adderley Live at the Penthouse Seattle 1966-7.
This evening’s listening will be really really interesting. Anyone wanting to compare notes, get in first, the floor is yours.
UPDATE 1: Cannonball
Just listened to the Cannonball Adderley Swinging at Seattle session: recorded for radio without proper studio equipment, poor quality engineering (by radio DJ Jim Wilke), compressed tonal range, indifferent microphones poorly placed, I guess the club set up a recording, mono, because individual instruments were not close-miked, and thought it was enough to “hear the band”. Mastered by Bernie Grundman, but Bernie can’t fix the original recording – another engineer is listed on the album credits responsible for “sound restoration”. Sound restoration? There is plenty of high quality Cannonball material available elsewhere and this session, with its engineering issues, doesn’t add anything significant, I can’t recommend it.
UPDATE 2: Dolphy
Dolphy sessions: mediocre original engineering quality. Just listening to the Iron Man reissue, did the bass player not turn up? Thin, one dimensional presentation. Alan Douglas may have been a wizard impresario, but he didn’t get the right engineer. The RSD packaging looks attractive – nice cover, vinyl weight, big name engineers, but the only important component is what it sounds like . . . very weak.
The not previously issued material appears to be rejected alternate takes, which is why they were not previously issued, because they were rejected. The studio sound quality is better than the main titles, but still not very satisfactory.
Westbrook Band at Sunbury Jazz Festival, Middlesex, UK, 1968
My, don’t they all look so young! If you can name the players, instrument by instrument – well, have a go. Photos courtesy of Harry (retouched by LJC)