Saturday, December 15, 2007

John Surman... Keith Tippett... Gary Smith/John Stevens... Bert Jansch... Yusef Lateef... Ian Matthews... Scrapper Blackwell

So – back in God's Little Acre, preparing for Christmas... presenting some oddities...

I found this John Surman track on a Wire magazine sampler (no 13 – I have them all somewhere - which could be interesting, if I ever have the patience to dig them out). This is 'Way back when part 4,' recorded in 1969. Surman has a lighter style on soprano than the heavyweight model of the time – John Coltrane - less spiky than Steve Lacy, say. Lyrical and folksy over the busy, thrusting drums, electric bass and fairly muted electric keyboard comping. A session that reflects the disparate influences of the time lightly, when Miles was pushing hard in his rock/jazz integrations, a reminder, perhaps, that in the U.K. our intermingling of jazz with rock (and folk) possessed a distinctive flavour... see below... Surman, of course, is more famous for his innovative baritone playing and later investigations of electronics in his composing/improvising. The tapes for this album apparently had been lost until recently, recorded as a loose jam and put to one side, strangely enough... now released on Cuneiform, lord bless 'em, where you can find a basketful of the similar...

Another musician who is probably better known these days for his positioning on the free side of jazz improvisation but who was happy to swing between the genres in the late 60s/early 70s during the hazy existence of that temporary autonomous zone where much seemed possible – and inevitable: (at the time - hmmm) - and embrace the 'spirit of the age' is the English pianist, Keith Tippett. Here he is with a trio, playing a track called 'Glimpse' from his 1972 album 'Blueprint.' Tippett is a unique pianist, integrating post-Cageian under-the-lid tinkerings with a dynamic thundering keyboard style that builds up slowburning storms of overtones. I've seen him a few times down the years and he is one of my favourite indigenous musicians, a powerful player. Starts of with high treble over silvery rustling percussion to build strongly as he brings in that thundering bass – Babbington glisses in to join the fun. Ebbs and flows nicely between subdued filigree and near silence to stomping acoustic fisticuffs...

John Stevens was one of the founders of free improvisation in the U.K. (Little Theatre Club blah blah, via that curious post-WWII mix of Air Force band and Art College). This is a duet with Gary Smith from late on in the drummer's career (1993) (he died at the age of 54), taken from the album '7 Improvisations.' Don't know which number this one is, actually – I have it on a disc from the good Mr Teledu (the same source for the Tippett track above – as is the next selection,come to think of it. So much for even a pretense at coherence this day). Long-held grungy dark chords as Stevens goes busy. Spartan echoey guitar, the metal/rock timbres combining with the drummers free jazz free flow to create two spatial movements that intersect sporadically to lock it all together. A long way from his more terse/spare improv strategies - see SME - this is Stevens in mercurial fashion. Smith replies with sputtering lines and strummed chords that float across the rhythms...

This post becomes more and more elliptical, in time-honoured fashion. Just the way I have the tracks prepared (loosely - very loosely) for delivery – here is Tippett again, plinking away on a soft folk-rock number, which has a winsome charm (I suppose). Ian Matthews (of Matthews Southern Comfort fame - did anyone else hate 'Woodstock?' Sorry Joni...) heads the track up – and the late Sandy Denny, one of my favourite singers, plays harmonium and supplies some back up vocals. 'Never Ending,' from 1971. Richard Thompson (His Dourness) on acoustic guitar. Matthews has one of those light fey voices which on a good day can seem charming enough (compared to Thompson, who is a brilliant songwriter but always sings as if he has a potato up his nose), oddly backed by Sandy who could sing him into the ground on a bad day, here just content to do the friendship/session game. A curio... Fluff, really...


I could always hear the snap of Scrapper Blackwell somewhere in the back of Bert Jansch's playing, that distinctive rip of the strings that drove his playing along in such a powerful way. (Hell on the nails, as I can testify). This is another piece where a lot of the sixties influences that flowed so strongly through the U.K. to link the folk, jazz, rock and blues scenes arrive at an interesting convergence. Bert, backed by Danny Thompson on bass – one of the essential pivots of the scene(Pentangle/John Martyn etc), bringing his jazz chops to bear on disparate genres. 'Bittern,' from 1978. The tumbling 9/8 rhythm probably links back to Charlie Mingus's more gospel outings that were such a massive influence at that time. Plus folk slip jigs? This is also shot through with wah wah electric lead (from Martin Jenkins on amplified mandocello? - I know he played on the album, and I saw him with Bert round this time when I was back home in the U.K. for a visit). Meanders a bit but old Danny holds it together – and takes a neat solo, demonstrating his jazz credentials- which Bert never really had. But what a guitar player within his own self-created space... fire and soul move across genres...

Looking for a rogue cd that has slipped the pack somehow, I stumbled on this – Yusef Lateef, 'Revelation,' from his album 'The Centaur and the Phoenix.' Tenor states the theme, a twelve bar in D minor, joined by the tight-clenched ensemble as back drop in the second chorus. They drop out as the bass picks up a fast walk in four and Lateef solos over some punchy drumming (Lex Humphreys - snappy throughout). Succession of choruses from Clark Terry (I think), a robust Tate Houston, cool, somewhat detached and floaty Curtis Fuller, so so chorus from Zawinul before Lateef returns over clipped horns - into a brief fade out... The rest of the album is more interesting, but, hey, I'm perverse and this is a strange day... More soon...

So: mention of influence (fancied or otherwise) gives us: Scrapper Blackwell playing 'Down South Blues,' recorded in 1931. He teamed up famously with Leroy Carr. But cut a lot of tracks on his own. Maybe that distinctive treble string movement was developed to cut through in tandem with the piano playing of Carr in unamplified environments but he integrates it neatly into his solo style. An influence on Robert Johnson as well, perhaps? Or is it just the register of the voice? Fascinating interview with him here...

Hail the Scrapper anyway... reading this all back made me realise that I've been drowning in too much Olson recently on a re-encounter with his biography as well as the continuing encounters with the rest of his awkwardly brilliant oeuvre - but sad selfish fool in many crossed ways he certainly was... maybe my prose style is haunted by this, on a strange day with much movement close to me and mine, benign, malign, we shall see...

'The chain of resurrection is memory. I am a vain man...'

Yup... Warner to Maximus...

In the Videodrome...

Archaeologist of morning...

so: Creeley...

A brief snippet of Yusef out on the road recently... playing the blues...

Keith Tippett in Le Mans, 1998

Keith and Julie and Paul... improvise...

... reel back- 'Indian Rope Man.'

... jump cut to Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg (saw them in July - one of the gigs of the year)

... run by our good friends Black Carrot...

... Rambling Jack Elliott anyone?

Sly Stone redux recently... (one for Etnobofin)

John Surman
John Surman (ss) John Taylor (p) Brian Odgers (b-g) John Marshall (d)
Way back when part 4


Keith Tippett
Keith Tippett (p) Roy Babbington(b) Frank Perry (perc)


Gary Smith/John Stevens
Gary Smith (el-g) John Stevens (d, )


Ian Matthews
Ian Matthews (v) Richard Thompson (g) Keith Tippett (p) Sandy Denny (harm)
Never Ending


Bert Jansch
Bert Jansch (guitar/piano), Martin Jenkins (mandocello/violin/flute), Danny Thompson (b)


Yusef Lateef
Richard Williams (tp) Clark Terry (flh, tp) Curtis Fuller (tb) Josea Taylor (basn) Yusef Lateef (ts, fl, argol, ob) Tate Houston (bars) Joe Zawinul (p) Ben Tucker (b) Lex Humphries (d)


Scrapper Blackwell (g, v)
Down South Blues



TOR Hershman said...

How could you have left-out the Hollowday Classic
"The Little Bummer Boy"?

Stay on groovin' safari,

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