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Graham Bond: Wading in Murky Waters

Duncan Heining By

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Organist and saxophonist Graham Bond was the most important and influential musical pioneer to emerge from British jazz in the 1960s. High praise indeed, but in his case it is warranted. His legacy might be defined less by the music he recorded and more by the impact he had on subsequent generations of musicians. However, that impact is such that one can with every justification suggest that he and his ORGANization invented jazz-rock. The success Bond craved and believed was rightfully his never came—as much as anything, he was a victim of his own desires and fantasies. These led inexorably to problems with drugs and bad career moves, which in turn stemmed from what was very clearly a deeply-flawed and perhaps damaged personality.

Harry Shapiro, in his biography of Bond The Mighty Shadow (Crossroads Press, 2004), pulls no punches. He hints that Bond's psychological difficulties may be traced back to the fact that he was an adopted child unable to resolve the questions of his abandonment and origins. The portrait that emerges is a complex one. Bond was a charmer and one still remembered with a combination of affection and frustration by those who knew and worked with him. Yet, he ripped people off, wasted his talent and, most serious of all, sexually abused teenage girls, including the daughter of his last wife Diane Stewart. In a business littered with the casualties of indulgence, there is a tendency to romanticize musicians and artists who skirt the limits of self-destruction and sometimes fall over that edge. Bond is much harder to romanticize—he was never going to end up "one of the guys" like Bill Wyman. He is—like Stan Kenton, who raped his own daughter and, less so perhaps, Joe Harriott, who physically assaulted several women in his life—an artist one may admire for their music but not as a man.

Repertoire's recent four CD box set—Wade in the Water: Classics, Origins and Oddities—calls for an appraisal and a reappraisal of both the music and the man. Issues over the ownership of rights to other sides—including the Warner Bros' set Solid Bond, the Vertigo albums Holy Magick and We Put Our Magick On You and the Stateside Pulsar LPs Mighty Grahame Bond and Love Is The Law—mean that Bond's later material isn't covered here. Nor is the live 1964 set, I Met The Blues at Klooks Kleek and neither is Bond's final album, Bond and Brown's Two Heads are Better than One, with co-leader Pete Brown.

Graham Bond Organization— Wade in the WaterThat does not, however, detract from the admirable job that Repertoire has done with this release. Despite somewhat inexplicable changes to the original running order of the two official EMI albums—There's a Bond Between Us and The Sound of '65—there are some intriguing outtakes, demos and live cuts, as well as sets recorded with singer Duffy Power, Winston Mankunku Ngozi and guitarist Ernest Ranglin—and the famous "Waltz For A Pig" that was the "B" side to The Who's Rolling Stones tribute, "The Last Time." The most important aspect of this release, however, is the quality of the remastering. For this, a great debt is owed to the late Dick Heckstall-Smith, to Pete Brown (who also provides the sleeve notes) and to producer Jon Astley. Those of us who never got to hear the GBO live might have wondered about the group's reputation, based largely on the sheer force and power of its live performances, which set it aside from many of its contemporaries. At last, that now comes across here.

There are inevitably shortcomings in a set such as this. Not all the material is up to the standard of the official recordings for Columbia-EMI, but any such disadvantage is generally offset by the sense of completeness offered here, at least up to early 1966 in Bond's career. There are, for example, seven versions of the GBO staple "Wade in the Water" on offer. What emerges is just how tight a unit the Organization was and how effectively these four highly distinctive musical talents merged and coalesced within the group. And this was despite the clash of egos between drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce and the bizarre and downright devious business practices of Bond himself.

The meat of this box really comes in the form of the official releases, though outtakes like "Positive aka HHCK Blues," a number of tracks from the post-Jack Bruce Organization featuring trumpeter Mike Falana and a few from the later GBO, with Jon Hiseman on drums, add valuable weight. For example, there's a beautifully nuanced version of "St. James Infirmary" with Mike Falana.

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