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Trevor Tomkins' Sextant: For Future Reference


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Trevor Tomkins' Sextant: For Future Reference
A 2-CD collection of four sessions recorded for BBC Radio between 1980 and 1983, For Future Reference is a snapshot, just one of many snapshots that might be taken, of British jazz in the period immediately before the so-called "jazz boom" of the mid to late 1980s. That boom was marked by an acknowledgement of the dancefloor, the greater visibility of musicians with roots in the African diaspora, and a willingness, even eagerness, by those musicians to publicly affirm the non-conformist attitudes which had shaped the socio-political beliefs of many, probably most, jazz musicians since the birth of the music. The boom went overground with three emblematic album releases: Working Week's Working Nights (Virgin, 1985), Courtney Pine's Journey To The Urge Within (Verve, 1986) and Jazz Warriors' Out Of Many, One People (Antilles New Directions, 1987).

Drummer and percussionist Trevor Tomkins was of the previous generation of musicians who were the movers and shakers on the London scene. In 2023 still too recent to lionize, Tomkins' generation did much to break the prevailing perception of British jazz as an underwhelming reflection of its American parent. Tomkins is to be found on many important albums of the late 1960s and 1970s, far too many to list here, from the Don Rendell / Ian Carr 5Tet's Dusk Fire (Columbia, 1966) through to Neil Ardley's Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows (Gull, 1976) and Barbara Thompson's Jubiaba (MCA, 1978).

Remarkably, given his talents and the esteem in which he was held by his peers, Tomkins, who passed in 2022 aged 82 years, never made an album under his own name. So For Future Reference is both Tomkins' debut and memorial as a leader. Fortunately, he kept the tapes of the BBC sessions and the estimable Jazz In Britain label has released the album in cooperation with his estate.

Sextant's lineup came together pretty much by happenstance, when at short notice Tomkins was asked to assemble a band for a pub gig and called on five friends. Although he was nominally its leader, Sextant was cooperative in spirit, with all the members free to put forward material. The personnel, which remained essentially unchanged throughout the group's existence, was multi-reedist Jimmy Hastings, trombonist Chris Pyne, guitarist Phil Lee, pianist John Horler, bassist Paul Bridge, and Tomkins. On one of the sessions heard here, Brian Smith deps for Hastings.

Tomkins once said that his favourite bands were John Coltrane's quartet and Bill Evans' trio, and Sextant combined the sinew of the first with the melodicism of the second. Most of the tunes are originals by Lee and Horler, with others by Stan Sulzmann, Ralph Towner, Cedar Walton and Kenny Wheeler. There is not a dud among them, but two standouts are Horler's "Three Four Peace" and "Evansong," both salutes to Evans. Hastings, Pyne, Lee and Horler all have plenty of solo space, and Tomkins, who always had to be dragged unwillingly towards that spotlight, has all too few.

Track Listing

CD1: Chapter One; GRS; Celeste; Ugetsu; ‘Smatter; Early Spring; Your Eyes Are Love; The Right Moment. CD2: Zemlja; Summer Night; Three Four Piece; Evansong; Your Dancing Toes; For Future Reference; Ballad No. 1.


Trevor Tomkins: percussion; Jimmy Hastings: woodwinds; Brian Smith: drums; Chris Pyne: trombone; Phil Lee: guitar, electric; John Horler: piano; Paul Bridge: bass, acoustic.

Additional Instrumentation

Trevor Tomkins: drums; Jimmy Hastings: soprano and tenor saxophones, flute, bass flute; Brian Smith: soprano and tenor saxophones, flute; Chris Pyne: trombone, bass trombone; Phil Lee: electric guitar, 12-string guitar; John Horler: piano, electric piano; Paul Bridge: bass.

Album information

Title: For Future Reference | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Jazz In Britain

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