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Extended Analysis

Graham Collier: Down Another Road / Songs For My Father / Mosaics

By Published: December 26, 2007
Graham Collier
Down Another Road / Songs For My Father / Mosaics
BGO Records

The late 1960s and early 1970s were years when European jazz in general, and British jazz in particular, came into their own in terms of the music making a fundamental break with established, exclusively American precedents.

This two-disc reissue of three Graham Collier albums made by the bassist/bandleader during the period underscores this contention. Collier's working methods, even at this relatively early stage of his career, already had something distinctive about them, and he was blessed in enjoying the services of musicians capable of bringing his ideas to fruition.

In that respect, trumpet and flugelhorn player Harry Beckett was then enjoying an almost symbiotic relationship with Collier's music. This much is clear on the lengthy "Danish Blue on the first album, which at 17½ minutes is by some distance the lengthiest piece here overall. Given its essentially episodic nature, the success of which is in no small part aided by sheer duration, the degree of continuity is notable, especially when Beckett plays passages entirely solo, allowing his extraordinary lyricism to emerge.

On the strength of his performances here, trombonist Nick Evans has never received the recognition he deserves; his blowsy outing on the opening title track conjures up images of the role that Jimmy Knepper played in some of bassist Charles Mingus' bands. It's also a positive affirmation of life, and there's no such thing as too much of that.

Although Songs For My Father is chronologically and programmatically the second album here, it's the one that offers the greatest insight into Collier's more recent methodology, not least because the numbers of musicians involved are more indicative of his later work with larger ensembles.

Thus "Song One (Seven-Four) and "Song Seven (Four-Four Figured) are performed by an augmented sextet, and the former is graced by a guitar solo from Phillip Lee, one which does a lot more than merely lay the foundations for the kind of role that Ed Speight has played in some of Collier's more recent works. By a happily dissimilar token, the unsurprisingly reflective "Song Two (Ballad) features a soprano saxophone solo from Alan Wakeman that moves via its reedy individuality.

"Song Five (Rubato) again has that cohesively episodic feel before successive tenor saxophone solos—from Tony Roberts, Wakeman and Alan Skidmore in that order—raise the heat to the level of boiling, in a manner that for all of its reflection of things happening on the other side of the Atlantic at the time still retains an identity not entirely formed by US precedents.

The point is emphasised by "Song Six (Dirge), where soloists Beckett, on flugelhorn, Wakeman on soprano saxophone and pianist John Taylor have a cumulative effect that transcends the trivial issue of national identity, and underscores the point that music is an international language.

The point about Mosaics being a retrogressive step in terms of the narrative of Collier's musical evolution is a moot one, especially given the quality of the music the six-piece band produces. As a bandleader Collier was by this time fashioning some distinctive frameworks for improvisation, and the group as a whole, with alto and tenor saxophonist Bob Sydor joining Beckett and Wakeman in the front line, seems so "bedded in" with Collier's work that the result is only stimulating listening of a rarefied order.

It's both glib and yet apposite to mark drummer John Webb's work down as an amalgam of Art Blakey and Elvin Jones, but the overriding impression is of a man alert to every nuance of composition and of soloists. This is best exemplified by "Mosaics Part One: Theme 1, where he shadows Beckett's solo in almost telepathic fashion. Sydor and Wakeman's tenor saxophone duet on "Mosaics Part Three: Themes 4 and 6 also qualifies for the description, although its conversational elements are unique to it.

This is an exemplary reissue in terms of plotting the course of a music coming into its own. Equally importantly, both of these discs pass the repeated listening test with aplomb. Students of the history of the music, as well as those with an interest in how the music has managed to retain its artistic vibrancy, need look no further for deep satisfaction.

Tracks: CD1: Down Another Road; Danish Blue; The Barley Mow; Aberdeen Angus; Lullaby For A Lonely Child; Molewrench; Song One (Waltz In Four-Four); Song Two (Ballad); Song Three (Nine-Eight Blues). CD2: Song Four (Waltz In Four-Four); Song Five (Rubato); Song Six (Dirge); Song Seven (Four-Four Figured); Mosaics Part One: Theme 1; Mosaics Part Two : Themes 4, 2 and 3; Mosaics Part Three: Themes 4 and 6; Mosaics Part Four: Themes 2 and 8.

Personnel: Harry Beckett: flugelhorn & trumpet (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-8); Nick Evans: trombone (CD1#1-6); Derek Wadsworth: trombone (CD1#7-9, CD2#4) Stan Sulzmann: alto and tenor saxophones (CD1#1-6); Bob Sydor: tenor and alto saxophones (CD1#7-9, CD2#1-8); Alan Skidmore: tenor saxophone (CD1#7, CD2#2,4); Tony Roberts: tenor saxophone (CD1#7, CD2#2,4); Karl Jenkins: oboe and piano (CD1#1-6); John Taylor: piano (CD1#7-9, CD2#1-4); Geoff Castle: piano (CD2#5-9;) Phillip Lee: guitar (CD1#7, CD2#4); Graham Collier: bass (CD1#1-9, CD2#1-8); John Marshall: drums (CD1#1-6); John Webb: drums (CD1#7-9, CD2#1-8).

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