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Ian Carr and Nucleus: '70s British Jazz Rock Progenitors

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Ask the question, "who was the first fusion artist?" and you're likely to start a heated debate. While populists like to claim Miles Davis and seminal recordings including In a Silent Way and especially Bitches Brew as the first salvos in a genre that ultimately spawned groups including Chick Corea's Return to Forever, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and Miroslav Vitous' initially more freely-conceived Weather Report and, of course, the incendiary Mahavishnu Orchestra, fronted by guitar legend John McLaughlin, the reality is that, like any change in music, it came from a number of directions at once. A specific artist may introduce the record that defines a genre, but the truth is that for every landmark recording there are dozens of others that mine the same territory but never receive their proper due.

In the arena of jazz/rock fusion, clearly pianist Mike Nock and Fourth Way were early progenitors, with albums including The Sun and the Moon Have Come Together ('69) and Werewolf ('70). And vibraphonist Mike Manieri dabbled with rock sounds and rhythms on Journey Through an Electric Tube ('68) and the big band effort White Elephant ('69). But these efforts all reflected a more American approach to fusing rock rhythms and textures with jazz tonalities. What of places further abroad?

In England there were a number of groups who were blending rock sonorities with a more loose improvisational approach. Soft Machine released one of their most important albums, Third , in '70, an album that to this day is considered in the same breath as Bitches Brew for its sheer audacity and forward-thinking approach. And Dave Stewart's Egg, while owing much to the classical tradition, was still a harbinger of more jazzy things to come with bands including Hatfield and the North and National Health. But amidst all this flurry of activity arose a band who, while the personnel would change radically over the years, represented the vision of one artist: trumpeter Ian Carr, who would, following a long run with the Don Rendell/Ian Carr band of the '60s, search for ways to mesh his own self-taught traditional background in improvisational jazz with the more edgy rhythms and sounds of rock. The result, Nucleus, is a band that, critically acclaimed in its time, was almost forgotten through the ensuing years, but has recently come back into the spotlight thanks to a series of reissues by Britain's BGO Records, not to mention the release of live recordings by Hux and Cuneiform.

Chapter Index:

Elastic Rock

We'll Talk About It Later
Solar Plexus

Belladonna

Labyrinth

Roots

Under the Sun

Snakehips Etcetera

Alleycat

Direct Hits

In Flagrante Delicto

Out of the Long Dark

The Pretty Redhead

Live in Bremen


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