Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain 1965-1972

Various Artists

(LP - Decca #5393589)

Review by Thom Jurek

Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain 1965-1972 is a double-length, budget-priced sampler for Decca Records' British Jazz Explosion: Originals Re-Cut series, featuring influential recordings from the 1960s and '70s that forged a unique identity in British jazz. Drawn from its catalog and those of Deram, Argo, Lansdowne, Fontana, Philips, Mercury, and Verve, these 14 tracks are newly remastered from original analog sources. This sampler contains 90 minutes of music by some of England's most important jazz composers from the era and offers a startling array of approaches to modern jazz.

"Don the Dreamer" by the John Dankworth Orchestra is from 1969's hard-swinging Windmill Tilter. Kenny Wheeler's composition reveals an uncanny balance of swing, conventional and angular harmonics, and progressive big-band rhythms. Saxophonist Don Rendell's quintet deliver a collision of hard bop blues and modal with Coltrane-esque soprano playing in "A Matter of Time," his solo from the 1972 album Space Walk. Baritone saxists John Surman and John Warren lead the playful, dynamic "With Terry's Help" from 1971's legendary Tales of the Algonquin. Its lineup includes altoist Alan Skidmore, bassists Barre Phillips and Harry Miller, trumpeter Harry Beckett, and pianist John Taylor. The Michael Garrick Sextet play "Second Coming" from 1965's Promises. Garrick's arrangement tracks the blues while channeling the influence of Ellington and pushing it to the breaking point. It also features a fiery alto solo from Joe Harriott. By contrast, Mike Westbrook's Concert Band meld the Atlantic-era John Coltrane with the Clarke Boland Big Band in "Waltz (For Joanna)." Stan Tracey, too, makes use of Ellington in "Matinee Days," from 1966's Alice in Jazz Land; it must have sounded like futurism at the time with its tonal and rhythmic invention offered in jagged modernist harmonies and cadences.

Two selections highlight composer/arranger/conductor Neil Ardley. An edit of 1970's electric, theatrical "Greek Variations: VI Kriti" with Ian Carr and Rendell, bassist Jack Bruce (on upright), and guitarist Chris Spedding (the latter two serve as the aggressively electric, fuzzed-out engine for Michael Gibbs' proggish set closer, "Some Echoes, Some Shadows"). "Angle" was drawn from Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra's Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe, melding big-band blues, skeins of post-bop, vanguard jazz, and Mediterranean folk sounds. Alan Skidmore's "Old San Juan" shifts impressionistically across modal jazz, punctuated by suggestions of Gil Evans' orchestration with fiery soloing from Wheeler on flügelhorn. Pianist Mike Taylor's "To Segovia," from 1966's Pendulum, offers striated piano harmonics and lovely bass work from Tony Reeves in a signature modernist work. Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain 1965-1972 is packaged inside a hardbound book with a 20,000-word liner essay by series producer and compiler Tony Higgins that includes critical and historical commentary, biographical sketches, and complete discographical info. The uniformly fine material on this set invites punters to seek out reprints of the handsomely designed originals -- but this overview is in itself a stellar example of Brit jazz's revelatory, lasting contribution.

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