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Jazz in Britain: The Back Story

Chris May By

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Jazz In Britain is a not-for-profit label that curates and releases previously unissued studio, performance and broadcast recordings made in the mid-1960s and '70s by the movers and shakers of the contemporary British jazz scene—proving along the way that the radical new wave jazz emanating from London in 2021 comes from a distinguished lineage.

Since its formation in 2020, Jazz In Britain has released 19 albums, all of them important historical artifacts and some of them stone classics. Three releases that have been enthusiastically reviewed on All About Jazz in 2021 are composer and bandleader Neil Ardley's live masterpiece Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows: Live '75 (2021), trumpeter Henry Lowther's Group Sounds' mid-1960s studio recordings Black & White Raga (2020), and tenor saxophonist, flautist and vibraphonist Tubby Hayes' Free Flight (2020), recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in 1972.

Mike Taylor Quartet
Mandala
Jazz In Britain
2021

Pianist and composer Mike Taylor is little known in 2021 and was a marginal figure even during his own tragically short lifetime. Born in 1938, Taylor was found drowned in the Thames estuary in 1969. The circumstances of his passing remain unknown and were ruled as "misadventure" by the coroner at the inquest. It is known, however, that like the contemporaneous singer-songwriter Nick Drake and Pink Floyd singer and guitarist Syd Barrett, Taylor had a fragile mental constitution that was unable to handle the vast amount of psychedelic drugs he consumed.

Taylor's reputation rests on two remarkable albums that he recorded for Britain's Lansdowne label: Pendulum (1966) and Trio (1967). He is also remembered as cowriter, with drummer Ginger Baker, of three tracks on Cream's Wheels Of Fire (Polydor, 1968). Mandala precedes all three albums. It was recorded at a gig in 1965 by the group's drummer, Jon Hiseman. The sound quality is so-so, but the energy of the quartet's performance is outstanding and all but Dizzy Gillespie's "Night In Tunisia" are Taylor originals. It is hard to pin Taylor's style down, particularly in 1965, when he was still developing it, but there are suggestions of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and the modally-based aesthetic of John Coltrane's quartet. Mandala is extra-valuable for being Taylor's only known live recording.

The aforementioned Jon Hiseman, who later led the influential jazz-rock band Colosseum, was married to the saxophonist Barbara Thompson from 1967 until his passing in 2018. Thompson has a finely honed wit. A journalist once enquired of her, "Your husband is a musician, too, isn't he?" and Thompson replied, "No. He's a drummer."

Ray Russell Sextet featuring Harry Becket
Forget To Remember—Live Vol. 2: 1970
Jazz In Britain
2021

Like John McLaughlin and Chris Spedding, Ray Russell is one of a small group of British guitarists who reimagined the instrument's use in jazz during the late 1960s and '70s, drawing on both rock and free improv to create something fresh and revolutionary. Russell, who is still very much with us, was also back in the day a prolific session player. His many unsung appearances include David Bowie's 1969 hit "Space Oddity." Among Russell's least celebrated but truly awesome sideperson credits are two albums with the singular, undeservedly obscure singer-songwriter-pianist Bill Fay. Russell is heard on Fay's early masterpieces Bill Fay (Deram, 1970) and Time Of The Last Persecution (Deram, 1971). More than that, he co-produced the second album with Fay and the band heard on Forget To Remember—Live Vol. 2: 1970 provided the accompaniment (sans guest trumpeter Harry Beckett).

Forget To Remember—Live Vol. 2: 1970 was recorded by BBC Radio at the Aeolian Hall in London's New Bond Street for broadcast on its Jazz Workshop program, a late-night series focusing on experimental jazz. It was broadcast in January 1970, and this Jazz In Britain pressing is its first airing since then. It is a cracking performance whose bite and vitality is undimmed by the passage of time. All the tracks are Russell originals and the band, Russell's regular sextet augmented by Beckett, is a blinder.

Russell went on to a successful career composing film and TV music, but he has never lost sight of jazz. In 2020, he released Fluid Architecture (Cuneiform/Rune).

Tracks and Personnel

Mandala

Tracks: Son Of Red Blues; Night In Tunisia; Folk Dance #1; Half Blue; Mandala.

Personnel: Mike Taylor: piano; Dave Tomlin: soprano saxophone; Tony Reeves: bass; Jon Hiseman: drums.

Forget To Remember—Live Vol. 2: 1970

Tracks: Forget To Remember; Triple Goddess; Rites & Rituals; Disinterested Bystander; The Third Real; Forget To Remember (false start & take one); Rites & Rituals (take one).

Personnel: Ray Russell: guitar; Harry Beckett: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tony Roberts: saxophones; Nick Evans: trombone; Daryl Runswick: bass; Alan Rushton: drums.

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