December 23, 2008
Deep Dark Blue Centre/ Portraits/The Alternate Mosaics
BGO CD 822
Mike Osborne Trio
All Night Long
Ogun OGCD 029
While most of the attention in Britain and overseas in the late 1960s, early 1970s was focused on progressive rock and pop music coming from England, far more notable sounds were being developed outside of the mainstream. Although the most far-reaching of these advances may turn out to be the non-idiomatic improv advanced by the likes of Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, two other strains deserve attention.
One, represented here by Graham Collier’s session for septet and sextets, collected from three different LPs, expressed the depths of the composer-arranger’s art. Its variations on color, texture, space and voicing cemented Collier’s reputation in that tricky hyphenate’s top ranks. All Night Long on the other hand, is a free-for-all blowing session from three musicians who while fellow travellers, were not fundamental believers in Bailey-Parker-styled lower-case pure improv.
Although both discs are officially reissues, each set adds more material to the original LP – roughly 27 minutes to the session led by alto saxophonist Mike Osborne, plus an almost three-quarters-of-an-hour alternate version of one of Collier’s most realized works, Mosaics. Surrounding that program, recorded in 1970, are Deep Dark Blue Centre, a septet session that was Collier’s first LP in 1967, and Portraits a sextet date from 1972 with a completely different band. Although significant efforts, neither matches the grandeur of Mosaics.
Perhaps because two of the players – Collier himself and Rhodesian-born trombonist Mike Gibbs, later a prominent arranger – were graduates of Boston’s Berklee College, the 1967 dates seems to suffer from an overemphasis on textural organization rather than emotional soloing. At points the voicing appears to track backwards from the Berklee-sanctioned work of Evans and George Russell to the airiness associated with 1950s’ bands of similar size such as those led by John Graas, Teddy Charles and Gigi Gryce.
Featuring two future members of The Soft Machine – baritone saxophonist and oboist Karl Jenkins and drummer John Marshall – the writing and soloing too is sometimes too episodic. Jenkins’ oboe is emphasized far more – for novelty’s sake? – and more frequently than similarly so-called exotic instrumentals would be used in later Collier work, while Phil Lee’s sometimes finger-picking, sometimes strumming guitar lines exist in a dated time frame mid-way between Joe Pass and Gabor Szabo.
Most of the assured strength comes from front-line players, all of whom, ironically enough, were foreign-born. The date’s veterans on trumpet and flugelhorn, who each play on half the tracks, are Harry Beckett, originally from Barbados, and Canadian Kenny Wheeler. Dave Aaron, who more than acquits himself on alto saxophone and flute, was born in Singapore.
“Conversations” for instance, depends on antipodal vamping that contrasts Wheeler at his brassiest with Aaron’s slithering trills. Collier and Marshall provide backing that at times pulses like Native Indian rhythms, until the piece reaches a climax when Wheeler’s sweeter tones mix with Aaron’s skittering runs. An episodic minor blues, the title track mixes Gil Evans-like linear chords with down-stroking guitar licks à la Szabo at his most psychedelic, an R&B-like riff from Jenkins’ baritone saxophone, bluesy alto bites from Aaron and cymbal pops from Marshall. Hardening his tone from braying to polished, Wheeler completes the piece with triplet-laden excitement.
Despite its overall title, only flugelhornist Dick Pearce is the subject of a full-fledged salute with “Portraits One” on Portraits. Framed by obbligatos from Ed Speight’s guitar and Geoff Castle’s comping piano, Pearce who has more recently worked in the bigger bands of Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey acquits himself with only a few dips into the saccharine. Shading his output in many layers, the trumpeter is effectively showcased when the gradually accelerating tempo provides a foundation for his contrapuntal asides, slurs and double-tonguing.
Furthermore, “And Now for Something Completely Different”, parts one and two, which take up another part of the session, relate more to the time in which it was composed and played than most of Collier’s previous and subsequent work. With Blue Note records-styled funk then in vogue, the repeated motif built on ratcheting percussion from John Webb, who also worked in a similar vein with guitarist Ray Russell; and nagging, extended guitar licks from Ed Speight, attempt to replicate this funk sound. Pianist Geoff Castle, who in recent years has worked with arranger Neil Ardley and in Ian Carr’s Nucleus, seems unsure whether he should be Wynton Kelly or Herbie Hancock. His passing chords and hearty tremolo pumping however don’t shout “early 1970s” as much as Webb’s heavy-handed drum solo. Meanwhile Pearce’s half-valve chorus is more NYJO than NYC. Luckily Collier’s arrangement saves the date with tempo shifts from andante to kinetic and direction from his thumping bass runs. Using intervallic layering to delineate parts, Collier often places bubbling flugelhorn lines on top, chirping alto saxophone from Peter Hurt – who has since played with George Russell and Carla Bley – in the middle and high-frequency piano chording at the bottom.
In contrast to the music surrounding it chronologically, 1970’s Mosaics is in many ways Collier’s Kind of Blue. More orchestral than that Miles Davis date, the alternate version of the four themes collected here benefit from a powerful front line, and one might conjecture less pressured Castle and Webb than they were two years later.
Beckett is back again, yet oddly both powerful saxophone soloists are now more involved in other musics than jazz. Bob Sydor, who plays alto and tenor saxophones, was in Maynard Ferguson’s big band as well as the orchestra for Miss Saigon, now teaches saxophone privately. Tenor and soprano saxophones Alan Wakeman, followed brief gigs with Mike Westbrook and the Soft Machine with membership in singer David Essex's band and now concentrates on commercial work, notably in musicals.
That’s a pity, since both men dig into the material here with gusto, double and triple tonguing, and intelligently using altissimo runs, passing tones and slurry glottal punctuation. Webb’s drum work pops and rolls and Castle’s piano lines are similarly high frequency and kinetic.
Except for a final drum solo, “The Alternate Mosaics Part 3, Theme 6”, serves as a perfect showcase for Beckett. Beginning a capella, he shades the brass tube and valves through squeaks, lip pops, wah-wahs, spits and puffs. When the downward rappelling bass line brings in the theme, strengthened by swaying, near-Arabic soprano saxophone lines, Beckett responds with fleet triplet-emphasized growls. As the rhythm section lays on pressured accompaniment he then turns from hand-muted weaving to harsh, staccato lines.
Another stand out, “The Alternate Mosaics Part 2, Theme 2” not only gives space to double-gaited cascading piano chords, but also for stop-and-start tenor saxophone cadences from both reed men. As Collier’s thick bass plucks and Webb’s press rolls push them forward, both Wakeman and Sydor overblow, tongue-stop, chomp phrases, semi-quote and generally vibrate pitches everywhere. The final shout chorus, adding Beckett, is excitement in itself.
One saxophonist who demanded go-for-broke excitement almost constantly, and never seemed to be seduced by commercial considerations, was Osborne (1941-2007). Although sidelined with mental illness for about two decades before his death, prior to that, Osborne showed, in his work with the Brotherhood of Breath (BOB) and his own bands, that he was committed to the sort of improvisation that exhausted all possibilities. All Night Long, recorded with BOB cohorts, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums – both expatriate South Africans – confirms this. Although he favored the alto saxophone, Osborne was, in a way, the link between Tubby Hayes and Evan Parker.
As this 1975 CD demonstrates, those saxophonists are important touchstones. While Osborne was never really a bopper like Hayes, he still cleaved to the song form and studded his solo with fleeting quotes from other tunes, a long-time bop trope. Furthermore every tune on this CD has a real title, and the trio even briefly touches on “Round Midnight”. Conversely, while Osborne’s solos are rugged, seemingly never-ending and studded with rough asides, slip-sliding, roars and unexpected sound excursions, he never deconstructed timbres the way Parker, his sometime BOB section-made did. Whether he would have – like Bailey and a few others – have become more musically experimental as he aged, is of course, a moot question.
What is obvious is the strength of the performance here. Operating at 100 per cent from the first note, the trio mixes gritty, bass string plucks and pummeling arco lines on Miller’s part; cross-patterning drags, flams and rim shots, with add-on miscellaneous percussion excursions on Moholo’s; and resonating, repetitive bites, blows and blats on Osborne’s, to keep playing at top form.
Note how the three treat the almost 24-minute showcase that encompasses “Ken’s Tune/Country Bounce/ All Night Long/Trio Trio”. As Miller’s thick pulses spelunk down the bass strings and Moholo counters with a relentless exposure of rumbles, pops and cymbal echoes, Osborne inventively squeezes, trills and pushes new tones to the centre, only to discard them and start again. Forced and filled vibrating arpeggios and discursive patterns are advanced with flutter-tonguing, tongue-stopping and split tones, slip-sliding from one idea to the next, contrasting a bebop quote with a pseudo-Scottish burr and then moving on. Meantime Miller leaps from sul ponticello accompaniment to set up a groove congruent to the drummer’s cross pulsing and duple meters. As cadenzas of notes spew from his horn it appears as if Osborne will never stop playing no matter what.
Or consider the previously unreleased “Now and Then, Here and Now”. Beholden to the sound extensions brought to jazz by John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, Osborne’s solo still has a melodic base. With some lilting phrases played in the coloratura register and others roughened with a deeper tenor-sax-like pitch, he flies off into the stratosphere, but keeps recapping the original theme to maintain his moorings. Snatches of what could be “Slop” and “Mr. PC” appear fleetingly and then are subsumed into the molten idea flow, the bravura performance includes hocketing leaps from one idea and note cluster to the next. Especially illustrative is that the saxophonist is still soloing as the track fades. This is how Osborne should be remembered.
Born in 1937, Collier is thankfully still alive to be celebrated. And so he should be as with these CDs. Despite their related-to-the-period faults, both his and Osborne’s sets recall the creative ferment in United Kingdom jazz in the late 1960s, early 1970s and preserve hours of notable music that should be savored.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Deep: Deep Dark Blue Centre: 1. Blue Walls 2. El Miklos 3. Hirayoshi Suite 4. Conversations 5. Deep Dark Blue Centre Portraits: 7. And Now for Something Completely Different PT. 1 Disc 2 1. And Now for Something Completely Different PT 2. 2. Portraits 1 The Alternate Mosaics: 3. The Alternate Mosaics Part 1 Theme 1 4. The Alternate Mosaics Part 2 Theme 2 5. The Alternate Mosaics Part 3 Theme 6 6. The Alternate Mosaics Part 4 Theme 8
Personnel: Deep: Deep Dark Blue Centre: Harry Beckett or Kenny Wheeler (trumpet and flugelhorn); Mike Gibbs (trombone); Dave Aaron (alto saxophone and flute); Karl Jenkins (baritone saxophone and oboe); Philip Lee (guitar); Graham Collier (bass) and John Marshall (drums) Portraits: Dick Pearce (flugelhorn); Pete Hurt (alto saxophone); Ed Speight (guitar); Geoff Castle (piano); Collier and John Webb (drums) The Alternate Mosaics: Beckett; Bob Sydor (alto and tenor saxophones); Alan Wakeman (tenor and soprano saxophones); Castle; Collier and Webb
Track Listing: Night: 1. All night long/Rivers 2. Round Midnight 3. Scotch Pearl 4. Waltz 5. Ken’s Tune/Country Bounce/ All Night Long/Trio Trio 6. Scotch Pearl 7. Now and Then, Here and Now
Personnel: Night: Mike Osborne (alto saxophone); Harry Miller (bass) and
Louis Moholo (drums)