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Extended Analysis

Steve Miller/Lol Coxhill: The Story So Far...Oh Really?

By Published: August 28, 2007
Steve Miller / Lol Coxhill Steve Miller/Lol Coxhill
The Story So Far...Oh Really?
Cuneiform Records

British pianist Steve Miller and soprano saxophonist and British national treasure Lol Coxhill worked extensively together back in the 1970s. This carefully put together double disc set documents their music from that time and its release should be celebrated by anyone who values singular musicianship and idiosyncratic music making. The pair's two albums together are included, along with previously unreleased live recordings. The listener thus gets a taste of just how broad Miller and Coxhill's musical activities were, ranging from the almost pastoral to their own subtle take on the fusion genre, via free improvisation and fledgling electronica.

Miller's "Chocolate Field, which opens the first disc, conveniently exemplifies the first of these. Its evocative melody is taken at a stately tempo before it's subject to intriguing variations, including a solo stint by Coxhill that emphasises just how individual his musical intelligence has always been. The following "One For You, also from Miller's pen, covers the notion of subtle fusion in a way that few other bands could match. Coxhill's absence on this one is in a way compensated by the presence of Richard Sinclair on bass. Like Hugh Hopper, Sinclair's playing has always been symptomatic of a restless, probing musical intelligence in the best sense of the words.

Fledgling electronica is covered by "Maggots, and in the course of its less than one minute and thirty seconds duration Coxhill proves just what a resourceful improviser he is. He does the same on "Wimbledon Baths, where his straight horn is overdubbed and layered in a way which lends the music a particular air, aided in no small part by Coxhill's distinctive instrumental vocabulary.

Miller gets the chance to do the same on the solo "God Song, where the reflective, ruminative qualities of his work come to the fore. He sounds like an English Mal Waldron in the sense that his playing seems quite consciously pared down, devoid of the inessential in a way that allows the best musical ideas to come forth and blossom.

The second disc features seven tracks of Miller solo and as half of a duo with drummer Laurie Allan. The music is again pervaded by a lyrical strain which might make new listeners realise just what an underrated talent Miller was. This is especially evident on "G Song, where Miller's sweet, unhurried way again lets the music breathe.

Subtle fusion comes to the fore again on Coxhill's "The Greatest Off-Shore Race In The World, where an insidious little groove is ridden for all its worth by the composer, while bassist Archie Legget underplays in a way that's really joyous. It's such a pity that more bass players in this idiom didn't follow Legget's example.

In a sense the twenty-three minutes of "Coo-Coo-Ka-Chew that closes the set is a summary of the entire programme. In the setting of a collective improvisation including Sinclair and Allan, the quartet bring their own musical personalities to bear at the same time as they contribute to the music's shape and momentum.

Diversity, then, is the key, and when it offers up rewards as rich as it does here that's only a good—no, make that a great—thing. At the time this music was being made it could well have been marketed as food for the head. There's a whole lot of truth in that, to be sure, and anyone blessed with a puckish sense of humour is abundantly catered for also.

Tracks: CD1: Chocolate Field; One For You; Portland Bill; Will My Thirst Play Me Tricks? / The Ant About To Be Crushed Ponders Not The Where Withal of Boot Leather; Maggots; Bath 72; Wimbledon Baths; Gog Ma Gog; Betty (You Pays Your Money, You Takes Your Chances); God Song; Bossa Nochance / Big Jobs; Big Jobs No. 2; God Song. CD2: Chocolate Field; One For You; G Song; F Bit; Songs Of March; More G Songs; Does This; The Greatest Off-Shore Race In The World; Reprise For Those Who Prefer It Slower; Tubercular Balls; Soprano Derivativo / Apricot Jam; Oh DO I Like To Be Beside The Seaside?; In Memoriam: Meister Eckhart, From The Welfare State Epic Of The Same Name Starring Randolph Scott; A Fabulous Comedian; Coo-Coo-Ka-Chew.

Personnel: Steve Miller: piano, electric piano, Wurlitzer percussion, wah wah pedal; Lol Coxhill: soprano saxophone, "cheap" alto saxophone, "messy" phones', Wurlitzer percussion, Cathedral organ; Phil Miller: guitar (1:2,1:4,1:9-11); Richard Sinclair: bass (1:2,1:4,1:5,2:15), vocals (1:9-11); Pip Pyle: drums (1:2,1:9-11), percussion (1:4); Archie Legget: bass (1:3,2:3-9,2:11); Laurie Allan: cymbals (1:3), percussion (2:3,2:5,2:7), drums (2:8,2:9,2:15); Roy Babbington: bass (1:9-11); Kevin Ayers: acoustic guitar (2:11); Robert Wyatt: percussion, vocals (2:11).

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