The result of a productive continuing partnership between Cuneiform Records and Radio Bremen, this double-CD captures a 1971 concert by the Nucleus sextet, led by Ian Carr on trumpet and flügelhorn, and also featuring Karl Jenkins on Hohner electric piano and oboe, Brian Smith on saxophones and flute, Ray Russell on electric guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, and John Marshall on drums. Nucleus was first formed by Carr in late 1969, and the group took first prize at a Montreux Festival competition in 1970, positively blowing away the competition (which included the very best of contemporary European jazz bands). Their prize was an appearance at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival three weeks later, where they were reportedly very well-received. However, that was almost the high point of the group's visibility in the U.S., although they maintained a large and loyal following in Europe, and Carr kept the group together until the early '80s.
As Carr has observed in interviews, when he first assembled the personnel for Nucleus in 1969, Miles Davis had yet to record Bitches Brew, and Weather Report only existed in Joe Zawinul's mind, if at all. Calling out influences can be a fool's game, but rock, free jazz, and funk were being thrown into a blender by various groups as the ‘60s eased into the ‘70s, and the concoction developed by Nucleus had much to recommend it. Certainly Nucleus was not the first group to mix funk and jazz -- Horace Silver had brought the two together at least ten years earlier. And both Herbie Hancock (with the Miles Davis group and on his own) and Zawinul (with Cannonball Adderley) were experimenting with electric pianos in 1967 and 1968 (much to the horror of mainstream jazz critics). The prominence of rock-oriented electric guitarist Ray Russell on this Radio Bremen date perhaps comes closer to a real innovation, although the young John McLaughlin was also experimenting with fuzzboxes and wah-wah pedals during this time, in and out of the Miles Davis groups. In fact, it is the combination of the various elements, including the repetitive, hypnotic funk riffs laid down by Jenkins' electric piano and Babbington's bass -- that provides Nucleus with its distinctive sound on this recording, together with some effective compositions and some excellent solos, in particular by Carr on trumpet and Brian Smith on flute and soprano sax. And if Soft Machine enthusiasts hear strong echoes of that group's later work throughout the performance -- in particular, on the trance-groove-based "Song for the Bearded Lady," "Torrid Zone," and "Snakehips' Dream" -- it's no accident, because Jenkins, Babbington, and Marshall would all migrate to Soft Machine a few years later, when they brought a good portion of the Nucleus sound to their new band.
Over 40 years after the fact, the music on this recording is no longer a revelation, and it could probably be argued that the Miles Davis group and Weather Report brought more to the table -- and captured the public's attention with their greater virtuosity and/or intensity. Nonetheless, Nucleus was no novelty act, and they demonstrate solid musicianship and a style that has worn very well over the years. Hopefully, this release will introduce them to a wider American audience, and solidify their role as jazz fusion pioneers.