Chris McGregor: Very Urgent, Up to Earth & Eclipse at Dawn

Andrey Henkin By

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Chris McGregor Group
Very Urgent

Chris McGregor Septet
Up to Earth

Brotherhood of Breath
Eclipse at Dawn

It reasonably could be argued that without the arrival of pianist Chris McGregor and the Blue Notes, British jazz would not have the stature it enjoys today. For many years, very little of McGregor and his South African compatriots' music had been available. In the past decade or so, reissues and discovered material have reattached this lost limb to the British jazz family tree.

After having reissued the first two Brotherhood of Breath (BOB, McGregor's '70s large ensemble) albums last year, Fledg'ling Records has focused its attention towards the murky period between the arrival of the Blue Notes in the mid '60s and the BOB's formation in early 1971. On Very Urgent McGregor is solely in the company of countrymen: alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana (Johnny Hodges to McGregor's Ellington), trumpeter Mongezi Feza, tenor saxophonist Ronnie Beer and the incomparable rhythm section of Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo. While not technically an unearthed gem, good luck finding the original LP. By the time of this album, McGregor had begun to solidify a musical concept that combined celebratory South African music with burgeoning modern jazz. This album, including an early take of "Travelling Somewhere," is an extension of the Blue Notes but with greater absorption of modernist touches and the flowerings of each musician's unique voice.

Up To Earth has made rounds in partial bootleg form but is finally available in full now (with the full concurrent piano trio session to be released shortly). Pukwana, Feza and Moholo are still here but a few of the local musicians who had embraced the new arrivals are added to form a septet, a compelling precursor to the BOB. Certainly saxists John Surman and Evan Parker were up to the challenge of McGregor's rambunctious music. Though recorded not much later than Very Urgent, McGregor's irrepressible spirit is becoming more obvious with brasher arranging and more open forms that owe a debt to the European avant-garde.

Cuneiform has single-handedly rescued the legacy of the BOB with, including Eclipse at Dawn, three live discs by the group from the '70s. McGregor, Pukwana and Moholo form the core of the group with fellow South African Harry Miller on bass. The rest of the 11'tet is filled out with Brits like altoist Mike Osborne, trumpeter Harry Beckett and trombonist Nick Evans. Performing at the 1971 Berliner Jazztage, the group boogies through a medley of seven tunes, including the Dollar Brand-penned title track and party themes like "Do It" and "Funky Boots March." There is no other large ensemble that veered so easily between Ellington Swing, Sun Ra bombast and Globe Unity chaos mongering, often within the same song.

Tracks and Personnel

Very Urgent

Tracks: Marie My Dear; Travelling Somewhere; Heart's Vibrations; The Sound's Begin Again; White Lies; Don't Stir The Beehive.

Personnel: Chris McGregor: piano; Mongezi Feza: pocket trumpet; Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Ronnie Beer: tenor saxophone; Johnny Dyani: bass; Louis Moholo: drums, percussion.

Up to Earth

Tracks: Moonlight Aloe; Yickytickee/Union Special; Up To Earth; Years Ago Now.

Personnel: Chris McGregor: piano; Mongezi Feza: pocket trumpet; Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; John Surman: soprano and baritone saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet; Barre Phillips: bass (1, 3); Danny Thompson: bass (2, 4); Louis Moholo: drums.

Eclipse at Dawn

Tracks: Introduction by Ronnie Scott; Nick Tete; Restless; Do It; Eclipse At Dawn; The Bride; Now; Funky Boots March; Ronnie Scott and Chris McGregor send off and applause.

Personnel: Harry Beckett: trumpet; Marc Charig: trumpet; Nick Evans: trombone; Malcolm Griffiths: trombone; Dudu Pukwana: alto sax; Mike Osborne: alto sax; Alan Skidmore: tenor sax; Gary Windo: tenor sax; Chris McGregor: piano, organ; Harry Miller: bass; Louis Moholo: drums.


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