Like Stan Tracey and Howard Riley, British pianist Gordon Beck suffers from his own obscurity. In addition to having played with the considerable British personality Allan Holdsworth, Beck's third and fourth records as leader, Experiments with Pops
(released by Major Minor) and Gyroscope
(released on Morgan), featured two of British jazz' major figures, guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Tony Oxley. For all of these associations, few actually know of Beck's work. The reissue of both on the private label Art of Life Records may now change that. Experiments
, a fractured take on pop hits of the time, was played much more adventurously than originally intended by the authors (particularly an almost unrecognizable "Good Vibrations"). Gyroscope
, featuring the same group of Oxley and Jeff Clyne (Ron Carter-esque in his ubiquity in British Jazz), minus McLaughlin, was six original compositions and comes off as a much more serious album than its predecessor.
The compositions on Gyroscope
, all by the pianist except for one trio credit, are pleasant post-bop launching pads. Played with lesser musicians, they may have come off as trite and derivative, as might much British jazz (for a criminally ignored region of jazz, the Brits might have had the highest concentration of notable musicians to be found in one cityLondon). It was the inventiveness of his "backing band" that pushed the pieces and the leader far past their potential. Oxley, who would go on to play with Riley, didn't stay supportive for very long, adding his free ideas to the mix very quickly, most notably on the title track, "Suite No. 1" and the lengthy closer "And Still She Is With Me/Oxus". While closer to the more traditional jazz played by the likes of Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes (Beck's former employ-er), the open experimentation of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and John Surman were bound to have an effect in a scene as small as late '60s London. This open clash of styles stands as a period document and makes Gyroscope a compelling listen.
For more information, please visit Art of Life's website at www.artofliferecords.com
This review first appeared in the July 2002 issue of All About Jazz: New York .