Don Rendell: Set 2 (1979) Spotlite

Selection: Waltz (Alan Wakeman)

.  .  .


A1. Becclesology (Rendell)     12:05
A2. Devon Dance (Rendell)     11.41
B3. Waltz  (Wakeman)   8:34
B4. It Could’ve Happened to You (Wakeman)  8:05
B5. Unicorn (Saberton)     9:11


Don Rendell, tenor sax, soprano sax, flute; Alan Wakeman, tenor and soprano sax; Pete Saberton, electric and acoustic piano; Paul Bridge, bass; Trevor Tomkins, drums; recorded at Greenwich Jazz Festival, Woolwich Public Hall, June 18, 1979; PA and foldback, Michael Stevens; recording/mastering, Mike McCarthy and Tony Williams.


The treat here, if Rendell wasn’t enough, is Alan Wakeman, a very bad boy on tenor, and  a great foil for Rendell’s pied-piper soprano.  Wakeman’s  sessions with Graham Collier Music are a high point in British tenor badness, aggressive, searing, truly bad. He reminds me of Sam Rivers, who could at times be very very bad. This is not Pharoah Sanders “spiritual exorcism” and sing-along, this is more earthly and uncompromising tenor badness.

The Rendell pieces are typical of his eclectic pastoral vision of British jazz. Both the Wakeman compositions on the album are engaging, Saberton’s “Unicorn” is a little uneven, but works out well in the end. 

Vinyl: Spotlite Records original press

A live recording in Woolwich Town Hall, South London. Though it claims to be “stereo”, both channels look effectively the same wave-form in Audacity.  Individual instruments were miked, but possibly mixed through the hall public address system to ensure everyone in the audience gets to hear the same thing wherever they are sitting, and an easy short cut  for recording. It is technically stereo, but it is not mixed to recreate a stereo soundstage.

The merit of this session is not the engineering, which is good enough, but the free-wheeling direction and harmonic texture of the music.

Art Director’s Tea Break

Rendell pointing his finger accusingly at someone, your eye follows the direction of his finger, and promptly falls out out of the frame. Good composition encourages exploration within the frame.

Caption Contest: who in the woodwind section just passed wind? Well for a start, you are out of tune: B flatulence

In another photographic faux-pas, the camera angle is crooked. The fall of the curtains is way off true vertical. Compositions work better when horizontals and verticals fall naturally, as they should, according to the law of gravity, allowing you to concentrate on the content, and not worrying if the piano is about to slide sideways off the bandstand (which according to this shot, it should) 

The album title: Why “Set 2“? Where’s Set 1? How many sets were there?  No, it’s not in several volumes, it may actually have been Set 2 on the night, but out of context, Set 2 doesn’t convey anything of importance about the performance.  Instead it lays some potentially false trails, it’s a lousy title. 

The extruded font for the album title SET 2 is a poor typographical effect, which contributes nothing to the cover narrative. The extra condensed font for artist credits is barely readable. 

Alan Wakeman (tenor, seated) has his face dodged in an attempt to rescue the burned out highlights or blocked shadow detail.

Don’s leather jacket looks more suited to a 70’s British cop show, with tough guys jumping in and out of cars and pointing guns, backed by pacy-pacy jazz music. In fact many actual British jazz musicians depended for their living on recording TV cop-show soundtracks.

If this was the pick of the photo shoot, I wouldn’t like to see the rest. I’d be surprised the cover designer and photographer/s used their real names, I wouldn’t want to be associated with this. There is so little design skill and talent at work, I’m afraid it just shouts “British Jazz”. It was left to British Prog-Rock to elevate creative album cover art.

Other Spotlite titles have artist snaps taken with flash-on-camera, leaving a shadow on wall behind. Tony Williams set the bar very low and it reminds me how spoiled we are by Francis Wolff and Reid Miles, Blue Note. The British could play decent jazz. Pity they couldn’t design a decent cover to go with it. Professional photographers were elsewhere engaged, in Carnaby Street model-shoots for bigger rewards.

Harry’s Place

Harry, our time-travelling jazz paparazzi, shows how it should be done: Alan Wakeman at Montreux, 1971

Collector’s Corner

The Greenwich recording location is not far from me in South London. Greenwich is home to the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory (obligatory souvenir photo, a foot either side of the timeline), The Cutty Sark clipper ship built 1869 for the China tea-trade, the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich Market, and Greenwich Park.

A perfect setting for a British Jazz Festival, which led this gig to be recorded in Woolwich Public Hall, Greenwich, not quite The Pinedes, Jazz a Juan, Antibes. From the album front cover, this historical photo looks about right, front and rear velvet curtains, not quite a low-ceiling jazz club ambience. The  acoustics may be a bit dodgy, and recording a challenge, but  I have heard far worse. 


A Public Address system pushes the amplified music out to the “front of house” audience.  The fold back is a second set of speakers facing the musicians, so they can hear themselves and each other during play, instead of hearing the PA echoing from the back walls of the auditorium. 

Still, at least it wasn’t recorded by someone with a portable tape-recorder in their lap and microphone up their sleeve. Spotlite Records continue to hold their own. Exciting, historically important British jazz, with the occasional visiting American (more shortly) , and good quality vinyl audio. However, they are also starting to get a little more expensive.

Horizon Scanning

Blue Note 4171  Classic Vinyl Series, George Braith “Extension” due out mid-July







Previously Reviewed at LJC in 2012, ten years ago. Interesting how writing has changed in that time. At least the occasional miss-spelling is consistent. Back then I didn’t have our resident spellchecker Cecil Taylor to help me out.


6 thoughts on “Don Rendell: Set 2 (1979) Spotlite

  1. why SET2,the Don Rendell nine did the first set issued as Earth music spotlite SPJ515 in gatefold with lots more great photos inset.


  2. A somewhat underrated saxophonist Wakeman whether he is bad I wouldn’t like to say, but his Triton album is worth seeking out


    • Perhaps a poor choice of word, I mean “bad” as a compliment, as in “bad-ass” – sometimes dangerous, unpredictable, the opposite of playing safe, conventional and predictable, which in my book is actually bad.


      • Sam Rivers was the very definition of unpredictable, so much so Miles ditched him fairly promptly for the more orthodox, but still excellent, Wayne Shorter.
        Btw Live at Woolwich Public Hall would have had a lovely parochial feel to it not dissimilar to Ken Colyer’s finest album Boston Church Service 1972 (Lincs not Massachusetts)


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