Rendell Carr Quintet: Live At The Union (1966) Stamford Audio

Selection: Ursula (Garrick) Live at The Union

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Studio Version (Ursula, from Black Marigolds/ Gilles Petersen compilation)

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Artists

Don Rendell, tenor, soprano saxophone; Ian Carr, trumpet, flugelhorn; Michael Garrick, Piano; Trevor Tomkins, drums, Dave Green/ Tony Reeves, bass. Recorded live at University College Student Union Hall, London, December 12, 1966,  private recording by one “George Foster”, remastered in 2010 by Michael King at Reel Recordings, Canada, from the original analogue tape.

Reel Recordings, a now defunct Canadian label run by Michael King and his wife Miki Dandy, from 2007 to 2013.They seem to have a specialty in remastering British vintage amateur recordings. Here left, their esoteric collection of British jazz acts in the 60s. Familiar cover design? The cover of Live at the Union is quite lovely atmospheric black and white.

Music

Another “lost private recording”, issued around ten years ago, which captured a live gig in the very early years of the Don Rendell, Ian Carr, and Michael Garrick Quintet. I have struggled to like this album since I bought it recently.

I have the highest respect for the musicians, and their EMI Lansdowne sessions are superb recordings of wonderful music. But this is a lost session that probably should have stayed lost. The side Trane ‘s Mood bears no relation to ‘Trane – just word association. The side “Webster’s Mood” is an excruciatingly pedestrian 12-bar blues, with far too long piano section which could have been bettered by any blues pianist. It gives me no pleasure to say, but it is self-indulgent and badly recorded, everything about it is poor, it was never intended for critical exposure.

The merchandising shouts audiophile deceptions: “glorious mono!”, “live atmosphere!”, audiophile technical processes in manufacture, 180 gram vinyl, proceeds to charity, all of it “hype”. This is about the fourth recent  “lost album” I have the misfortune to acquire, and it has taught me a few lessons, perhaps  somewhat late in the day, which I will share.

Only two things matter with a vinyl record:  artistic  performance integrity, and engineering quality. I think of those stories of Van Gelder driving out night before to set up Cafe Bohemia  or The Jazz Corner Of The World, marvelous recordings.  If it doesn’t tick both these boxes, it should not see the light of day. This “lost tape discovery” fashion has become a distraction to well produced proper music.

Vinyl: Stamford Audio STAMLP 1006  double 180g LP in deluxe gatefold sleeve.

There is a lot of industry gee-wizzery and marketing hype on display in the production of this historically interesting  but ultimately lo-fi “lost tape”.

I had to dig deeper  to separate the real stuff from the smoke ‘n’ mirrors. (Dons Sherlock deerstalker, lights pipe)

The original Union session tape was apparently remastered using a high-tech process of “glass mastering”. For the uninitiated (which included me), this is technology developed for the digital reproduction of CD and Blue Ray discs. Instead of the traditional vinyl master cut onto metal-based acetate, a coated disc of glass forms the base for the master disc. The music/information from the source is engraved on this glass master with minimal risk of atmospheric contaminants present, because the process takes place in a “Class 100 clean room” – a standard in which there are  fewer than “100 particles (0.5 microns or more) per cubic foot of air”. This  compares to a typical office environment of a 500,000 particles or more per cubic foot. And that is since they kicked the smokers out into the “fresh air”, so they can mix their nicotine with car exhaust.

Metal stampers can then be pressed from this exceptionally clean glass master, to press vinyl in the usual way. This standard of cleanliness may be a requirement of totally accurate transfer of digital 0 and 1 data in blue ray discs. For analogue vinyl, who knows if it is relevant. It certainly can’t do anything which improves the original recording.

That limitation is the audio quality of the original tape. This is down to three unspecified fixed mics plugged into a domestic-speed tape recorder located in the Student Union hall. “3 &3/4 inches per second!” That is simply the normal speed of a domestic tape recording machine, not the professional standard of half inch tape running 15 or 30 inches per second.

The use of three mics sounds promising (no mention of type of mic) but I suspect the  reason for it being a mono recording as late as 1966 is not in pursuit of “glorious mono” but a consequence of necessity, because there was no mixing facility to control the input of each mic in either real time or post production. The mics were fixed position and gain throughout, and merged together, because it was never capable or intended to remix the final product.

Sometimes Garrick’s piano is too loud, and Don Rendell’s sax too distant, and the end result is fairly lo-fi presentation of an amateur recording, nothing of audiophile quality, despite the hype: specialist glass mastering, from the original amateur tapes to 180 gram vinyl. An  aside, I paid a premium for a sealed copy, which ultimately is of no account, given the quality of the source. Lot of lessons learned!

Gatefold  (click to read full screen)

Collector’s Corner

I don’t know who the recorder of the session “George Foster” was, perhaps a friend of the band, as the tape ended up in the possession of Michael Garrick. I think not a professional recording engineer, who knows? If you do, please contribute.

When I was at University in those days, the guys in Stage Admin regularly recorded each Saturday night gig at the union, placing microphones under the stage. Sunday morning was a hive of activity copying the tapes for friends of Stage Admin. At one time I had a copy tape of Pink Floyd performing Piper at The Gates Of Dawn. Lo-Fi indeed, but we didn’t care, we were young, it was our time.

Is There A Future for Lost Recordings? Van Gelder vintage recordings reissued in all-analogue processes, spine-tingling. I figure there must be still more unissued material in the Blue Note vaults. Hundreds of recording sessions, Van Gelder at the dials, condenser mics strategically placed,  this is where I would be panning for gold. Deep mine the Blue Note vaults for unissued recordings.

LJC

Note: regrettably, new posts will be somewhat infrequent in the immediate future.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but In the meantime, there remains a back catalogue of 900 previous posts, something for everyone. Comments always open.

LJC – October 6, 2020

12 thoughts on “Rendell Carr Quintet: Live At The Union (1966) Stamford Audio

  1. George Foster indeed ran the UCL Jazz Society at the time. I was supposedly Treasurer but in reality George did everything. He also worked at Dobell’s occasionally.

    The venue would have been the large room next to the Union Bar

    I must have been at that gig but I can’t say I remember it. It seemed to me at the time that Mike Osbourne and Art Theman were on every week.

    I do remember Ian Carr giving a lunch time lecture on Miles …
    (Other lunch time lectures included George Melly on Bessie Smith and a solo bass recital by Peter Ind)

    • Sounds like the same room next to the Bar that I remember from a decade or so later. Good to know !

      I have the feeling that it has been completely revamped only very recently but when I was last in there around 2012 the recital room looked pretty well as it was.

  2. George Foster was president of the UCL Jazz Society at the time of this recording, I believe. He was also a very good friend of Ian Carr and played a major part in organising Carr’s memorial concert, being introduced from the stage at that memorable event.

    I’m assuming that the recording venue was the recital space accessed from the back of the Union Bar on Gordon Street.

    • Worth mentioning also that ‘Jazz In Britain’ have just issued a Michael Garrick performance also at the UCL Union of about the same vintage, on limited LP and download. Fidelity isn’t Van Gelder but I’m glad it’s out there !

      Ian Carr, Don Rendell and Joe Harriott are in the lineup.

    • That would make sense, Bob, thank you for the insight. It legitimates the recording, though sadly it does not make it sound any better. I heard some bootleg recordings recently from a guy that sat in the front row of concerts in a trench coat, recorder on his lap, microphone up his sleeve, and from that viewpoint, things actually sounded pretty good. Myself, I like studio quality. A friend has a lot of Grateful Dead and Velvet Underground bootlegs which sound … ok for the completists.

      • and thank you for posting about this LP, which has been sat in my racks and I now get the urge to replay it again !

        There’s quite a debt owed by British Jazz to George Foster and this UCL connection I think. The New Jazz Orchestra we’re effectively ‘based’ at the Union as their main weekly rehearsal space through this Carr/Foster/Garrick connection. Sadly (a decade or so after this recording) I don’t recall seeing any jazz in that Union space but did often attend some lively, enthusiastic and liquid-refreshed folk gigs there.

  3. Thank you for looking at this recording Andy. As you already know, I’m a long-standing fan of the Rendell-Carr Quintet. What you may not know is that my daughter has just finished her term of office as President of the UCL Jazz Society and has been involved in putting on gigs like these in the academic year up to this Summer (Covid19 permitting!). So I feel a particular affinity to this date.

    Ursula doesn’t sound too bad SQ-wise. I’ve certainly heard far worse bootlegs. However, I suspect that you chose the best (or is it least worse) track to share with us. I was interested in obtaining this because it’s the only recording of Urusla by the RCQ that I know of (the studio version had many of the same musicians but was technically on a Michael Garrick LP – Black Marigolds). However, I suspect that this live recording has now slipped down the pecking order on my want list.

    Nice to hear the voice of Don Rendell doing the intros though!

  4. It’s a charity album, LJC. “Proceeds from the sale of this LP will go to The Alzheimer’s Research Trust, UK.

    Ursula sounds ok to me. I mean, I’ve got Coltrane Live recordings that sound a lot worse.

    • I am somewhat torn on this as well. I think LJC makes good points, but it may be best to make them about one of the dozen or so other “lost” dates which are not being used to generate charitable funds.

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