Carr / Ian Carr / Ian Carr & Nucleus / Nucleus

Torrid Zone: The Vertigo Recordings 1970-1975

(CD - Esoteric / Esoteric Recordings #ECLEC 62663)

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This massive project was announced at the end of 2018, just as Jazzman was releasing The Complete Lansdowne Recordings by the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet on limited-edition vinyl. Carr assembled Nucleus in late 1969 to erase boundaries between jazz and rock, just as Miles Davis and Tony Williams Lifetime did in America. One of Britain’s most celebrated trumpeters and composers, Carr was a workhorse: Nucleus released nine albums in five years. That pace took its toll -- the lineup was a revolving door but suited the process of discovery, delivering a wildly diverse set of offerings ranging from angular improv and rock to funk and experimentation. Torrid Zone: The Vertigo Recordings 1970-1975 was compiled by Esoteric's Mark Powell and remastered from original Vertigo master tapes. They are packaged with tiny original artworks and notes by Chris Welch and Sid Smith and offered at an attractive price.

Disc one contains the band's debut Elastic Rock (1970) and the first half of We'll Talk About It Later (1971). The former is one of the most celebrated fusion records of all time. The lineup remains the same for both albums: drummer John Marshall (who replaced Robert Wyatt in Soft Machine), his future bandmate, keyboardist Karl Jenkins, guitarist Chris Spedding, saxophonist Brian Smith, bassist Jeff Clyne, and Carr. The straightforward grooves, serpentine soprano saxophone breaks, and rumbling drum and bass leave room for Spedding's spiky, economical playing. Disc two offers the second half of We'll Talk About It Later and the entirety of the classic Solar Plexus, a Carr-composed suite that was recorded in two days with an appended lineup. The music remained firmly rooted in fusion territory but shifted toward jazz funk as the undergirding for Carr's detailed, horn-centered improvisations. The first half of disc three contains Belladonna, which starred a young Allan Holdsworth on guitar and bassist Roy Babbington, shortly before they left for Soft Machine, with Smith and David MacCabe on saxes and Chris Thatcher on drums. For a group that hadn't been together but a month, these cats delivered everything from outside jazz to funk to precise, spirited fusion. The remainder of the disc contains half of 1973's Labyrinth, with the group expanded to include vocalist Norma Winstone, Kenny Wheeler, and Tony Levin on drums. Disc four includes 1973's Roots, with yet another lineup with most of the same members and Joy Yates on vocals, as well as half of 1974’s Under the Sun, with an entirely new lineup that included Gordon Beck on keyboards and Jocelyn Pitchen on guitars. This outfit could deliver both poles: extremely accessible music and erudite, exciting experimentation. The final two offerings, 1975's Snakehips Etcetera and Alleycat, are deeply reliant on funk -- á la Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow. They are two of the band’s best-known albums outside the U.K. Ultimately, this clamshell box appears at the dawn of a new Brit jazz movement in the 21st century; one that Carr invariably influenced. None of the music on Torrid Zone sounds dated even as it races across and binds together progressive jazz, rock, funk, and prog. It is an essential reissue package whose importance cannot be overstated.

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