Graham Collier & John Surman: Workpoints & Way Back When

Andrey Henkin By

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England in the late '60s was an exciting place for music and musicians. After years of accomplished, though derivative, jazz, the British scene was beginning to produce conceptualists with larger visions and to have the players in droves willing and able to play them. Around the same time that Mike Westbrook was developing his ideas, bassist Graham Collier was sowing the seeds of a particular kind of British jazz, one that made use of the many accomplished horn players available, and bridged the gap between freeform and trad styles.

Graham Collier

Cuneiform, ever committed to jazz from across the pond, has graced us with Workpoints, a two-CD set which presents Collier and two groups live in concert from 1968 and 1975. The 1975 disc is more in line with the numerous albums he did for his own Mosaic label when he, and indeed the rest of British jazz, had separated into different discrete quadrants. As such, while well written and with a quintet of fine players, it is of less interest than the first disc, a concert based around the Workpoints Suite, the first jazz composition funded by the British Art Council.

The concert begins with two pieces, one a bombastic dash from Collier's first record and the second a short ballad from his second. The bulk of the disc is the suite, four parts which would go on to inform most of his work over the next decades. The crack band that includes chaps like John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett, Karl Jenkins and John Marshall give their all, playing with the exuberance and thrill of discovery endemic in any British jazz of this period.

John Surman
Way Back When

Another disc fast forwards a year-and-a-half to an odd time in Britain. The "major label deals had dried up; Dave Holland and John McLaughlin had left for New York. John Surman, too, would be leaving to embark on several years in trio with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. Prior to his departure, he convened old friends John Taylor, Brian Odgers (of Extrapolation fame) and John Marshall, plus guest Mike Osborne, for a quaint little session.

The disc never was released, but did make the rounds as a rare test pressing. Now refurbished and elucidated with song titles and a recording date, it provides insight to the influx of fusion in England and how quickly Brit jazzers had become their own players. Of note is a tune soon to be on Where Fortune Smiles and the chance to hear Surman, Osborne, and Co. bidding farewell to an era.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Deep Dark Blue Centre; The Barley Mow; Workpoints, Pt. 1; Workpoints, Pt. 2; Workpoints, Pt. 3; Workpoints, Pt. 4; Little Ben; Under the Pier; Darius, Pt. 1; Darius, Pt. 2; Darius, Pt. 3; Darius, Pt. 4; Darius, Pt. 1 (Reprise); Mackerel Sky.

Personnel: Dave Aaron: flute, alto, soprano, and tenor saxophones; Harry Beckett: trumpet, flugelhorn; Graham Collier: bass; Mike Gibbs: trombone; Karl Jenkins: piano, oboe, baritone and soprano saxophones; John Marshall: drums; John Mumford: trombone, cowbell; Frank Ricotti: bongos, vibraphone; Chris Frazer Smith: trombone; Ed Speight: guitar; John Surman: piano, bass clarinet, baritone and soprano saxophones; Art Themen: soprano and tenor saxophones; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet, flugelhorn.

Way Back When

Tracks: Way Back When, Pt. 1; Way Back When, Pt. 2; Way Back When, Pt. 3; Way Back When, Pt. 4; Owlshead; Out and About.

Personnel: John Marshall: drums; Brian Odgers: electric bass; John Surman: baritone and soprano saxophones; John Taylor: electric piano; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone.


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