Graham Collier

Relook: A Memorial 75th Birthday Celebration
Jazz Continuum No #

During an historic career in composed and improvised music that lasted more than 55 years, British bassist/educator Graham Collier (1937-2011) was familiar with, and arguably mastered, every type of jazz as a player and writer. Yet, as demonstrated by the 20 selections of this career retrospective, organized by Collier himself before his unexpected death, his greatest achievements were in the realm of modern, straight-ahead big band Jazz

As the tracks recorded from 1963 to 2004 on this two-CD set illustrate, Collier’s skill was second to none. But qualifiers have to be added about modern, straight-ahead big band Jazz. That`s because the ever-changing, non-atonal music which Collier dedicated his professional life to was increasing being compromised by Jazz’s neo-cons, whose rightful rejection of fads such as fusion and hip-hop, also led to a codification of what they consider “real Jazz”. The bassist’s writings in books and articles strongly argued against these retrogressive blinders and listeners will surely note how his own musical work put a lie to narrow classifications.

Tynemouth-born Collier, who won a down beat scholarship to become the first British graduate of Boston’s Berklee School of Music and in1967, and was awarded the first-ever commission for Jazz from the Arts Council of Great Britain, early on was experimenting with building block arrangements and subtle counterpoint, as a rare Berklee-recorded track here shows. But more important to his future growth were sextet pieces such as “Down Another Road” and “Aberdeen Angus” which allowed a melding of Swing era lilts with churning Rock-styled rhythms without the results sounding sonically schizophrenic. Although there may be a bit of (self) mockery in the pieces which at points have harmonies which lean awfully close to those later used in the Austin Powers soundtrack, the composer has sufficient help fleshing out his concepts from three players who would be his stalwarts for many years to come: trumpeter and flugelhornist Harry Beckett, saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and drummer John Marshall. The last is inventively percussive without being self-indulgent; the reedist at this juncture exhibits a lighter variant on John Coltrane’s style; while Beckett, a veteran even then, offers up sharp-tongued and triplet-laden grace notes, which complement his romanticism in other settings.

“Workpoints”, which resulted for the Arts Council commission is arguably the most notable of pieces on what the set describes as “The Early Collier”. Incredibly enough the highly polished 34½-minute reading it gets here is actually an alternate version not previously released. A low tone man, likely related to his double bass skills, the composer’s exposition contrasts perpendicular vibe echoes and drum drags with a snorting bass ostinato and an overlay of staccato reed tones that open up for narrowed double tonguing from Sulzmann. As the quivering textures move upwards and downwards in pitch and volume, more parallels exist including saxophone call-and-response paired with bongo resonation; plus crying brass and writhing reed bites and slurs from Karl Jenkins’ oboe. Beckett’s flugelhorn textures in many capillary guises drive the middle section, with stop-tongued blurts at the top and the subsequent sequence introduced with notes in the brass instrument’s its highest pitches. Along the way his smooth textures are contrasted with whinnying from the other horns; are part of a two flugelhorn episode of mimicking and melding tones with Kenny Wheeler; and balance the narrative alongside intersecting brass and reed lines in canon-form. Although the swing is rubato, the continuum is paced by Collier’s bass, the percussionists and Jenkins piano comping. Finally – this is early Collier after all – a climax is reached with Mingusian slurs and shudders as well as brass work that evidentially relates to Maynard Ferguson excess. Latterly, a chiming vibe solo by Frank Ricotti maintains the theme’s individuality.

Built around counterpoint between Beckett’s mellow and flighty brass work and the laconic, metallic sound of Ed Speight’s guitar, “Adam” from 1975 is another Collier milestone. This intermezzo was one of the first he composed after being inspired by fine art, in this case the paintings of Barnett Newman, a preoccupation that would last until the end.

Represented by 11 selections from 1976 to 2004, the mature Collier’s composing on disc 2 appears to have paradoxically internalized some of the spaciousness of so-called New music as well as – through some sidemen allusions – heavier Rock, while reconfirming his Jazz roots. Tellingly “Symphony of Scorpions Part 2”, one section of a longer work influenced by the writings of Malcolm Lowry, is characterized by the tension engendered by low-frequency intermingling of piano coloration from Roger Dean, Webb’s, drum flanges and guitar distortions from Speight. The sequence’s momentum is expressed best in soprano saxophonist Art Themen’s pinched line which concludes with upturned vibrations.

At the same time, the extract from “The Hackney Five” from 1994 and 2001’s “Oxford Palms Open Blues and Ballad Two.” present other examples of Collier’s varied mature style. The former connects drum nerve beats, an electric bass intro and some whinnying alto saxophone lines into an undercurrent that leisurely evolves over vamps from the different sections. Meanwhile trombonist High Fraser outputs a chunky, booming solo that is both curvaceous and chromatic. Evoking William Faulkner’s books and location, “Oxford Palms” allows space for various solos to appear from within the gradually accelerating tutti cadenzas. With a modular drum beat, clinking piano runs and marimba chimes, baritone saxophone slurs and yearning alto sax lines make the greatest impression.

Finally there’s what could be termed Collier’s magnum opus, “Hoarded Dreams Part Two: Five Trumpets and a Baritone”. Recorded in 1981 with an all-star cast of British, Continental and North American improvisers, it’s subtitle alone appears both to refer to Ellington’s “Concerto for Cootie” and go him five better in the brass department. Helped along by guitarist John Schröder’s chording and cascading lines from Dean’s piano, as well as some fluttering alto flute from Geoff Warren, the slurs, blasts and brays of the sequential trumpet or flugelhorn solos shift among Ted Curson, Henry Lowther, Manfred Schoof, Tomasz Stańko and Wheeler. Individually expressed, the solos are alternately refined and rasping, revealing capillary cries and harmonies, while the rest of the band vibrates chromatically.

Throughout his life, a good portion of it spent in Jazz education, Collier was enough outside of the fashionable mainstream and away from the American Jazz power centres to have his compositions greeted with accolades that should be have his due. Hopefully this incomparable set of music will redress some of those slights and reveal what ever-evolving improvised music has lost with his demise.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Relook: Disc 1- Down Another Road- the Early Collier: 1. Down Another Road 2. The [Berklee] Barley Mow 3. Crumblin’ Cookie 4. An Alternate Workpoints 5. Song Three Live 6. Mosaics 7. The Alternate Mosaics 8. Adam 9. Aberdeen Angus /// Disc 2- New Conditions - the Mature Collier: 1. New Conditions 2. Forest Path to the Spring 3. Symphony of Scorpions Part 2 4. The Day of the Dead 5. Hoarded Dreams Part Two: Five Trumpets and a Baritone 6. One By One the Cow Goes By Part Two. 7. The Hackney Five Extract 8.The Third Colour Groove 2 9. Oxford Palms Open Blues and Ballad Two 10. The Vonetta Factor 11. An Alternate Aberdeen Angus

Personnel: Relook: Disc 1: 1. Harry Beckett (flugelhorn); Nick Evans (trombone); Stan Sulzmann (alto and tenor saxophones); Karl Jenkins (oboe and piano); Graham Collier (bass) and John Marshall (drums) 2. Dusko Gojkovic (trumpet); Mike Gibbs (trombone); Richard Iannitelli (alto saxophone); Sadao Watanabe (flute); Mike Nock (piano); Gary Burton + 36-piece student big band 3. Beckett; Gibbs; Dave Aaron (alto saxophone and flute); Jenkins; Philip Lee (guitar); Collier and Marshall 4. Beckett; Kenny Wheeler and Henry Lowther (flugelhorn and trumpet); Gibbs, Chris Smith (trombone); John Mumford (trombone and cowbell); Sulzmann; Aaron (soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and flute); John Surman (baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and piano); Jenkins (baritone and soprano saxophones, oboe, piano); Collier; Marshall and Frank Ricotti (bongos and vibes) 5. Beckett; Derek Wadsworth (trombone); Bob Sydor and Alan Wakeman (soprano and tenor saxophones); John Taylor (piano); Collier and John Webb (drums) 6. Beckett; Sydor; Wakeman; Geoff Castle (piano); Collier and Webb 7. Same as #6 8. Beckett; Wadsworth; Roger Dean (piano); Ed Speight (guitar); Collier and Webb 9. Same as #1 //// Disc 2: 1. Beckett; Lowther and Pete Duncan (trumpet); Malcolm Griffiths (trombone); Wakeman (soprano saxophone); Mike Page (alto, soprano and tenor saxophones); Art Themen (soprano and tenor saxophones); Dean; Speight; Collier and Webb and John Mitchell (percussion) 2. Themen (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Speight (acoustic guitar) 3. Beckett; Lowther; Duncan;, Griffith; Themen, Page; Tony Roberts (soprano and tenor saxophones); dean, Collier, Webb; Mitchell 4. Beckett; Griffiths; Page, Themen; Wakeman; Dean; Speight; Roy Babbington (bass); Ashley Brown (drums and percussion); John Carbery (narrator) and Collier (conductor) 5. Lowther; Wheeler; Ted Curson (trumpet); Manfred Schoof and Tomasz Stańko (trumpet and flugelhorn); Griffiths; Eje Thelin and Conny Bauer (trombone); Dave Powell (tuba); Juhani Aaltonen (alto and tenor saxophones); Themen; Surman; Geoff Warren (alto flute and alto saxophone); Matthias Schubert (oboe and tenor saxophone); Dean (keyboard and piano); Speight and John Schröder (guitar); Paul Bridge (bass); Ashley Brown (drums and percussion) 5. Gabriel Garrick, Steve Waterman, Patrick White and Sean Griffith (trumpets); Matthew Colman, David Holt, Hugh Fraser (trombones); Bill Mee (bass trombone); Stephen Main (soprano saxophone); James Scannell, Dan Foster and Matt Stewart (alto saxophones); Matthew Morris (baritone saxophone); Christian Vaughan (piano); Peter James (electric piano); Nick Goetzee (guitar); Jon Noyce (bass); Matthew Skelton (drums) and Tom Hooper and John Machin (percussion) 7. Lowther; White; Waterman; Fraser; Mee; Andy Grappy (tuba); Geoff Warren (alto flute and alto saxophone); Chris Biscoe (alto clarinet and baritone saxophone); Themen; Mark Lockheart (soprano and tenor saxophones); Pete Saberton (piano); Ed Speight; Dudley Phillips (bass); John Marshall (drums) and Collier (director) 8. Simon Finch and Steve Waterman (flugelhorn and trumpet); Ed Sarath (fugelhorn); Fraser; Oren Marshall (tuba); Steve Main (alto, soprano and baritone saxophones); Karlheinz Miklin (alto flute, flute, soprano and tenor saxophones); Geoff Warren (alto flute, alto and soprano saxophones); Themen (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones); Dean; Speight; Andy Cleyndert (bass); Marshall and Collier (director) 9. Adrian Kelly (trumpet); Kieran Hurleyand Jeremy Greig (trombone); Matthew Savage (euphonium and trombone); Lindsay Vickery (soprano saxophone); Graeme Blevins (alto saxophone); Lee Buddle (baritone saxophone); Tom O’Halloran and Grant Windsor (piano); Stephanie Dean and Lucy Fischer (violins); Martin Payne (viola); Jenny Tingley (cello); Phil Waldron (bass); Hans Drieberg (drums and percussion); Steve Richter (percussion and marimba) 10. Beckett; Steve Waterman and Alex Bonney (flugelhorn and trumpet); Mark Bassey and Fayyaz Virji (trombones); Gideon Juckes (tuba); Themen; Biscoe; Warren; James Allsopp (bass clarinet and tenor saxophone); Dean; Speight; Jeff Clyne (bass); Trevor Tomkins (drums); Graham Collier (director) 11. Same as #/10