Don Rendell: Just Music (1974) Spotlite

Selection: B2. Penta-gone (Rendell)

.  .  .

The song-title, British jazz much-loved play on words: a well known US military headquarters, and a mischievous piece in 5/4 time.


Steve Cook, bass, bass guitar; Don Rendell, clarinet, flute, flute [alto], soprano sax, tenor sax; Laurie Allan, drums; Barbara Thompson, flute, soprano sax, tenor sax; Peter Lemer, piano, electric piano.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios, London, January 29 June 12, 1974, album producer Tony Williams (Spotlite label); released in 1976. Mr Rendell’s denim cap courtesy of Hats for Fonky Cats: “say no to receding hairline”.

Artist Highlight: Barbara Thompson.

 From Barbara Thompson’s  autobiography:

“In my twenties: Stan Getz was playing at Ronnie Scotts. I saw his saxophone lying on the desk, and I thought I must try it… I picked it up and blew a few notes on it. It sounded just like Stan Getz. He heard me playing … and was very annoyed.” 


Asked if she had any particular career highlights:


BT:” I loved it when I played with Colosseum in Italy because afterwards, I had all these Italians coming up to me and kneeling down. That was so sweet. And after when I played a ballad, that I wrote for my daughter, we made the audience cry, which I didn’t realise. I like it when people thank me for my music that’s so very nice. And people, they play my music at funerals and weddings and that’s the nicest thing. To have people say they love your music. That means a lot.”

This BBC session with Rendell in 1974 was Thompson’s jazz debut recording.. She emerged in the later 70’s as fusion-jazz-rock band, Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia –  that P word is officially among the ten most difficult words to spell correctly; Cecil Taylor kindly take note 😉 One of few women jazz musicians in those heady fusion days, though there is no gender in music, she inhabits the same jazz upper register on soprano as Don Rendell, just two different voices. 

According to writer Dave Gelly:”From its beginnings as a pure ‘fusion’ band, Paraphernalia developed its own unique, eclectic approach and gathered a large and devoted following in Europe, especially in Germany, Switzerland and Austria”. Somewhere I  still have all of the Paraphernalia titles..

The latest Magnus Opus from Jazz In Britain is a 14 CD set of Barbara Thompson recordings, Journey to a Destination Unknown. Personally, I’d prefer a curated triple vinyl LP, but apparently not, 14 CDs it is, take it or leave it.

Barbara was married to drummer Jon Hiseman of Colosseum, from 1967 until his departure just a few years ago. “Together, she and drummer and bandleader Jon Hiseman, created their own, wide-ranging world of music throughout Europe, their names alone were enough to fill any concert hall.” 

I had the pleasure speaking with Barbara at a Barbican free foyer concert a few years back, very nice lady who autographed one of her CDs for me.  A fine musician, and Jon Hiseman’s complex polyphonic drum-play that evening, live, was an astonishing experience. Sadly, Thompson is now struggling with Parkinsons, a cruel degenerative condition, and I never did hear Don Rendell play, so vinyl is my only connection.


A1. The Wensleydale Suite (15:48) Rendell
A2. Well, Make It Up (4:25) Rendell
A3. Sands Of Time (6:44)Rendell
B1. Blues For Adolphe Sax (6:26) B. Thompson
B2. Penta-gone (6:43) Rendell
B3. Gab And Ben (4:23) P. Lemer
B4. Out Of My Window (4:58) Rendell
B5. Mina Impact ((3:36) Rendell


Don Rendell at this point had a twenty year musical career under his belt, one of Britain’s best saxophonists, and a disinclination to follow the rock and fusion direction taken by many others, so ploughed on in his own direction. Spotlite Records offered Rendell an outlet in the 70s, later sadly only on CD. 

On Just Music Rendell and Thompson occasionally swap over tenor and soprano.  Rendell’s vocabulary is highly individualistic, tenor and soprano, his playing a hypersonic  serpentine weaving flow of musical ideas. 

What intrigues me as a mere listener is the absence of the alto sax in this sort of repertoire, it’s heavyweight or featherweight, without the compromise of alto. Not that there aren’t many fine alto players, Art Pepper, Phil Woods, lots, but there is something uncompromising about the tenor and its range and force, and the natural home of the upper register is not the squealing alto (David Sanborn) , but the effortless fluidity and artistry of the straight horn, the soprano. Perhaps Coltrane would agree. The alto sax ultimately became the voice of contemporary smooth jazz radio. There, I’m glad that I got that off my chest. (no slight intended on classic era alto players! ) 

Vinyl: Spotlite SPJ 502

Spotlite was a British jazz label started in 1968 by Tony Williams (no relation) starting with release of Charlie Parker’s complete Dial recordings, reissues the rest of the Dial catalogue, along with American jazz broadcasts and rare studio/live recordings by leading American jazz musicians (such as Jon Eardley, Al Haig, Pepper Adams, Cecil Payne). Spotlite then began to feature home grown British jazz artists like Don Rendell, Ray Warleigh and Peter King: recorded and mastered for Spotlite, pressed at Orlake Records, Dagenham, Essex.(a new one for me)

According their Discogs entry: Orlake Records was established by plastics company Movilex Ltd. in 1964 and operated until 1999. Orlake operated a state-of-the-art plant with 16 Toolex Alpha automatic and 24 Toolex Alpha semi-automatic presses at, it’s peak producing one million records per month. There was no in-house disc mastering or printing facility. Orlake pressings are identifiable with the hand inscriptions “Orlake”, “OR” or less frequently “O” in the lead-out groove area. The + sign was also often used as joiner within the matrix numbers.

Collector’s Corner

A couple of weeks back I espied a maxi-single 45rpm of Blues For Adolphe Sax. I knew I already had the track on this Rendell 5 album, but who the hell are Chiltern Sound? So I passed on it, but later suffered non-buyers remorse for missing the track on the other side, Roundabouts and Swings.

When I went back, it had gone. That’s how things works.  Better the mistake of buying a record, than the mistake of not buying it. The maxi-single track:  Blues for Adolphe Sax

.  .  .

Spotlite is a strange label. I have a half dozen acquired over the years on a whim, because they are so undervalued – £5-10 maximum, I admit unplayed for some time. They hail from a dark time when jazz was unfashionable, and many issued on vinyl just before the Evil Silver Disk took hold. Some are great, a few not. I have made a note to dig mine out, ultrasonic clean, and a spin. (UPDATE: sound great! Fresh, engaging, well-mastered, full tonal and dynamic range, very slight surface noise probably due to quality of vinyl used by this bulk pressing plant)

Of Spotlite recordings and sources, a picture of Spotlite boss Tony Williams pictured below with US pianist Joe Albany, Williams is pointing to the tape! “That’s how you do it, original tapes”

I picked up another Don Rendell Spotlite just today in Soho, first day of the 4-day Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Many hundreds of thousands of visitors festooned in Union Jacks packing the  streets of central London, fleets of Range Rovers with darkened windows and police escorts, ferrying VIPs in, dozens of languages on the ear passing by, Piccadilly’s pavement twelve deep in both sides heading for Green Park and The Palace. London has never seen anything like this, a total contrast to heart-breaking scenes of silent, empty streets, two years ago, now something  uplifting to see.


Follow Up  – Pure Pleasure/Strata East – another PP-SE title arrived, “Such Good Friends“, which confirms these are unpleasant pretend-audiophile reissues. Largely mid-band, top end sheered off, and muddy bass. Pure Pleasure are doing themselves no favours putting out this sort of thing, to be avoided! The only thing to seek out is originals, a counsel of perfection I know, but that is the truth of it.


10 thoughts on “Don Rendell: Just Music (1974) Spotlite

  1. Well said Yardbird: “The tonal variety the alto adds to most small group ensembles is to be welcomed and you must listen to different horn players than me if you associate the upper register work as squealing.”

    There is an almost endless list of fine alto players we could cite. And to me, the combination of the three major sax voices together – alto, tenor and baritone – is heavenly.

    There are some special cases among the so-called “smooth jazz players,” several of whom made less than stellar “jazz” recordings, but were nonetheless exceptional artists. Grover Washington was consistently praised by Sonny Rollins as one of the most able and creative sax players. As for David Sanborn, check out the collection of “Night Music” TV shows on YouTube to see this amazing chameleon of a player going head to head with the cream of jazz players.

    All of that being said, this was another fine post, LJC, and I’m grateful for the introduction to Barbara Thompson. I noted with a chuckle the liner note writer who lauded her “sinuous, sensuously feminine soprano…” and your counter-balancing proclamation that “there is no gender in music.” Listening to the tunes, I in fact preferred Rendell’s (what, more masculine?) approach to the straight horn and Thompson’s dominance of the bigger horn.


  2. Thompson appeared on the two NJO albums from the sixties also on a track on Howard Riley’s LP Angle which I suppose could be classed as jazz records.
    Is the paragraph on the alto for real? The more times I read it the less sense it makes, Hodges,Bird & Ornette?


      • Well this area of British Jazz which this recording represents could quite easily accommodate alto players such as Ray Warleigh,Peter King even John Dankworth. The tonal variety the alto adds to most small group ensembles is to be welcomed and you must listen to different horn players than me if you associate the upper register work as squealing.
        Also got to challenge the statement that the alto become the home of smooth jazz, examples please


        • Smooth jazz sax, examples David Sanborn, Kenny G (admittedly mainly soprano) Candy Dulfer, Eric Marienthal, Dave Koz, Walter Beasley, maybe Grover Washington. Sanborn is hugely successful – Grammys galore, golds, platinums, he is the player that most comes to mind.


          • The only names I’m familiar with are Sanborn & Washington. I saw the former playing with Gil Evans in 1978 a phenomenal technician who lost nothing in comparison with fellow altoist in the band Arthur Blythe, he could and probably still can play in any context convincingly even in the free area.
            Would Johnny Hodges playing with Lawrence Welk be classed as smooth jazz or Bird with Strings?


            • That’s a tough call, YB. Certainly the strings are lush and cheesy, but Hodges is not smooth enough, too much articulation in the horn.

              Smooth Jazz should be “Smooth as butter”, a gentle groove, on the radio 24/7 as background music.


  3. My personal favorite: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
    (“the are so undervalued” -> “they are so undervalued”)


  4. That 14CD Barbara Thompson set of the BBC material is a very strong collection – not to be missed if you are a fan of her work IMO. Some really unique material on there – including a Mike Taylor tribute performance with Dave Gelly also in the front line, where they really nail it.

    The book is also excellent – and a fine reminder of her stalwart contribution along with Jon Hiseman’s, to British Jazz over the years.


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