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Extended Analysis

Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet: Change Is

By Published: October 5, 2004
Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet
Change Is
BGO Records

After being out of catalogue for many years, over twenty of the finest '60s/'70s albums by British jazz masters Don Rendell and Ian Carr are now available again. The duo are key collaborators on the crucially important Integration and Greek Variations albums reissued by Universal/Impressed, while the wonderfully eclectic web-based reissue label BGO has released five of the Rendell/Carr Quintet's albums and all of Carr's albums with Nucleus. There's a rare feast of Prime Cut Grade A Meat (sorry, they showed The Wedding Singer on British TV again last night) out there right now.

Change Is is the latest in BGO's Rendell/Carr Quintet strand. Recorded in '69, it is the last album recorded by the Quintet before the two leaders went their mostly separate ways, Carr to form Nucleus and Rendell to lead his own, less feted but equally exciting, two saxophones/pianoless Quartet. It showcases all the adventurous and idiosyncratic composing and performing qualities that made the Quintet one of the most distinctive post-hard bop groups of the '60s, and also signposts some of the new directions Carr would take with Nucleus.

The opening "Elastic Dream" introduces several of the ideas Carr would develop with Nucleus: an imaginatively constructed, serpentine theme, performed by an expanded line-up featuring two basses, and linked to the following track by a free-improvised passage; the only important Nucleus ingredient it lacks is guitarist Chris Spedding. It's a brilliant piece, full of fresh instrumental textures and quirky solos and almost orchestral in its arrangement.

Intimations of Nucleus aside, one of the other big excitements of Change Is is the debut recorded appearance of tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Stan Robinson—soon to be a founder member, with drummer Trevor Tomkins, of the Rendell Quartet—who guests on two tracks. Robinson, who stands thrillingly shoulder to shoulder with Rendell in the section work, gives a truly bad ass, booting tenor solo on Mike Pyne's funked up "One Green Eye."

Other highlights include Michael Garrick's raga based "Cold Mountain," building up from a slow burn start into a wild dervish dance foregrounding Rendell's skirling, snake charmer soprano and Garrick's hammered, rapid fire chord clusters, the icing on the cake being the pleasingly bizarre traces of Kurt Weill in the theme statements; Garrick's use of harpsichord on the Horace Silverish "Boy, Dog And Carrot;" and on the closing "Mirage," Rendell's and Carr's muscular, in a Kind Of Blue groove solos, among both men's most memorable.

Given its position in the end-of-one-era/start-of-another development of Rendell's and Carr's music, Change Is is a remarkably cohesive work, wholly enduring and richly enjoyable, and it's a joy to have it back.

Note for further investigation : Despite very clearly growing out of the American jazz tradition—and despite also a sustained enthusiasm for Balkan, Indian, African and Middle Eastern musics—there is something unmistakably but somehow indefinably British about Rendell's and Carr's music. It's nothing as obvious as, say, the use of English folk songs, Welsh harps or Northumbrian pipes, it's a lot more "other" than that, more to do with emotional atmosphere and maybe the approach to collective music making, and would probably require a few thousand words to nail down satisfactorily. But someone ought to try.

Track listing: Elastic Dream; One Green Eye; Boy, Dog And Carrot; Cold Mountain; Black Hair; Mirage.

Personnel: Ian Carr, trumpet/flugelhorn; Don Rendell, tenor saxophone/flute/soprano saxophone; Michael Garrick, piano/harpsichord; Dave Green, bass; Trevor Tomkins, drums; Mike Pyne, piano on "One Green Eye;" Jeff Clyne, bass on "Elastic Dream;" Guy Warren, talking drum/bells/maracas on "Elastic Dream" and "One Green Eye;" Stan Robinson, tenor saxophone/clarinet on "Elastic Dream" and "One Green Eye."

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