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Ian Carr: The Maestro and His Music

Roger Farbey By

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Ian Carr has been at the forefront of British modern jazz for over 40 years. He started playing trumpet in his brother Mike's band, the EmCee 5 in the very early 1960s. This bebop-influenced band even boasted a young John McLaughlin in its lineup at one point. He moved down to London from his home turf of the North East of England and then met up with various jazz musicians, including saxophonist Don Rendell. He teamed up with Don and together they formed one of the most influential British modern jazz quintets ever heard. The Rendell-Carr Quintet was something of a jazz supergroup, and although they only recorded five albums, for the EMI Columbia Lansdowne series label, these still command high secondhand prices on eBay. Apart from Rendell and Carr, the Quintet also featured Colin Purbrook on piano on their first album Shades of Blue only. Pianist Michael Garrick was recruited from their second album Dusk Fire onwards, and penned many of the compositions recorded. The Quintet was completed by Trevor Tomkins on drums and Dave Green on bass. Unusually and significantly, the Rendell-Carr Quintet was really the first British small jazz group to record only their own compositions, many of which were lengthy and distinctive.

During the 1960s, Carr recorded not only with the Rendell-Carr Quintet, but also with Michael Garrick's various groups on some remarkable albums including Promises, Black Marigolds and The Heart is a Lotus. He also recorded with Joe Harriott and Amancio D'Silva, notably on Integration and Hum Dono.

BBC Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson recently selected no less than two tracks by the Rendell- Carr Quintet ("Black Marigolds" and "Dusk Fire") for his first British jazz compilation album Impressed, which also featured Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Ross, Mike Garrick, Joe Harriott, Graham Collier and Harry Beckett. The Impressed series is a very important showcase for some of the great British modern jazz of the 1960s and 1970s, most of which had not seen the light of day since their original vinyl releases. Peterson clearly appreciated the importance of the Rendell-Carr Quintet.

Just prior to the Rendell-Carr Quintet split-up at the end of the 1960s, Ian Carr had attempted to move the Quintet into more adventurous, experimental areas employing the likes of percussionist Guy Warren. As witness to this mood for experimentation, Carr cut a record a few years earlier which was much freer than anything he had done before. Springboard, released on the Polydor label, is a now long-lost LP that offered some intriguing compositions, some by Carr, including a version of "Crazy Jane." Although the album's artwork did not mention this, the LP's vinyl labels actually had printed on them "The Ian Carr/Jeff Clyne Quartet." However, the album cover was more egalitarian and displayed the names of the other two musicians, Trevor Watts and John Stevens, in letters of equal prominence to those of Carr's and Clyne's. This album could have been seen to be and, in many ways was, an early Spontaneous Music Ensemble recording.

By late 1969 the opportunity arose for Carr to execute these groundbreaking ideals for himself. He met up with keyboard, baritone sax and oboe player Karl Jenkins, who had been playing and composing in Graham Collier's early bands. Together they recruited Brian Smith on saxophones, Jeff Clyne on bass and John Marshall (who occasionally stood in for Tomkins in the Rendell-Carr Quintet). They were joined by guitarist Chris Spedding and in 1969 Nucleus was born.

Their first album, Elastic Rock on the new "progressive" Vertigo label, produced with the assistance of Peter King and Ronnie Scott Productions, was greeted with great critical acclaim and sold well for a jazz album. This may have been due to the fact that nothing like it had ever been heard before. It was truly iconoclastic. Featuring many of Jenkins' compositions, Elastic Rock did not share the same territory as any other band either in jazz or rock. The album was both subtle and yet had a pronounced and deliberate blues/rock feel and in 1970 Nucleus won the award for top group when they represented the UK at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Their first album was followed by We'll talk about it later and the magnificent Solar Plexus, which was composed primarily by Ian Carr following his receipt of an Arts Council bursary (only the second such grant in jazz, the first being awarded to Graham Collier). Then came Belladonna and Labyrinth (another Carr epic which boasted a regular band augmented with the likes of Norma Winstone, Gordon Beck and Tony Coe).


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