With a resurgence of interest in what many call the "Golden Years of British jazzthe mid-'60s through early '70slabels like Vocalion are helping to fill in the blanks on the period when a specifically British sound began asserting itself, in contrast to the America-centric music of prior decades. While the music of emergent artists like saxophonist John Surman and trumpeter Ian Carr exhibits clear stylistic precedents from across the pond, there's also something indefinably British there, tooperhaps a hint of pastoral British folk filtered through a touch of impressionist classical sensibility, or perhaps a clear romanticism which was not a major factor in the freer jazz developments in the US at this point in time.
Pianist Michael Garrick was a member of the mid to late-'60s Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, whose albums have been reissued in recent times. These players also participated in an '02 reunion and corresponding album, Reunion. But while Garrick was a key member of that group, he also released a series of his own recordings throughout the same period. The Heart is a Lotus is one of the more distinctive ones, because it expressed his interest in the confluence of words and music. At the time he was an organizer of an ongoing series of performances called "Poetry and Jazz in Concert ; the poetry on The Heart is a Lotus concerns itself, amongst other things, with death and the end of relationships.
Heavy stuff. But while some of the subject matter is dire, the music is anything but. The core groupGarrick on piano and a rather dated-sounding harpsichord; Ian Carr on trumpet and flugelhorn; Art Themen on woodwinds; and Trevor Tomkins on drumsexpands to a sextet with the occasional addition of Jim Philip and Don Rendell (woodwinds) and Dave Green or Coleridge Goode (bass). The music ranges from the dark but swinging 11/8 title track to the lyrical ballad "Song by the Sea. With its saxophone/trumpet front line and upbeat hard bop swing, "Torrent sounds like something out of the Art Blakey repertoire, while "Temple Dancer suggests an interest in Middle Eastern music.
But the presence of vocalist Norma Winstone is what gives this session its real distinction. Still in her twenties, Winstone's soft and nimble voicecombined with her ability to navigate challenging melodies with ease and improvise wordlessly in a way that was antithetical to her more outgoing and athletic counterparts in the USdemonstrated a personal approach that was already well-formed at this early stage.
While the lyrical content of The Heart is a Lotus feels dated, the playing on the recording remains remarkably fresh. It's a shame that so many of the British players on the scene never reached acclaim beyond their own country, but hopefully reissues like this one will introduce them to a larger audience that, given the global reach of the internet, will extend beyond geographic borders.
Personnel: Art Themen: flute, clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones; Jim Philip: flute, clarinet,
tenor saxophone; Don Rendell: flute, soprano and tenor saxophone; Ian Carr: trumpet,
flugelhorn; Dave Green: bass; Coleridge Goods: bass; Trevor Tomkins: drums; Michael
Garrick: piano, harpsichord; Norma Winstone: voice.