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Nucleus with Leon Thomas: Live 1970

Roger Farbey By

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Almost forty five years after it was thankfully captured on tape, this first official release of the June 1970 Montreux Jazz Festival concert by British jazz rock pioneers Nucleus performing with American jazz vocalist Leon Thomas features a truly fascinating set of Thomas' repertoire and blindingly good performances all round.

This seemingly unlikely pairing of jazz rockers with jazz singer was explained in the album's sleeve notes written by Ian Carr's biographer Alyn Shipton. Nucleus had been Thomas' backing band during his two week residency at London's Ronnie Scott's Club at the beginning of June, so performing with him days later at Montreux seemed quite natural to both parties, and it sounds it too.

The set kicks off with "The Creator Has a Master Plan," originally the thirty minute plus opus found on Pharoah Sanders' 1969 album Karma. This version although only half the length in duration, still retains the exquisite warmth of Thomas' unique vocals (complete with his trademark yodelling) and enchanting lyrics. This version also benefits from Chris Spedding's sensitive guitar and Ian Carr's subtle muted trumpet lines.

The gentle "Echoes" offers Karl Jenkins the opportunity to shine with elegant oboe solo and "Damn 'Nam (Ain't Going to Viet Nam)" features Chris Spedding's coruscating guitar work, perhaps some of his most feisty playing ever.

Thomas' short introduction to "One" is reminiscent of the warm imprecations heard on Cannonball Adderley's Country Preacher Live at Operation Breadbasket. Here Thomas' frenetic wordless vocal gymnastics could easily have been a blueprint for improvising vocal phenomenon Phil Minton.

"Chains of Love" has Chris Spedding now on slide guitar, showcasing his prodigious talent on this slow twelve-bar blues; the track incidentally was co-penned by Harry Van Walls and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun under the pseudonym A. Nugetre.

On the final number of the set, "The Journey" Thomas' imaginative vocals are augmented with an appropriately serpentine oboe solo by Karl Jenkins, now a world famous classical music composer but relatively less known as a jazz composer and musician of great virtuosity, as is witnessed here.

This album is important for several reasons; Aside from capturing a historically significant performance, it also demonstrates the sheer versatility of the members of Nucleus, who as seasoned professionals sound like they had been backing Thomas for years not merely weeks. It also displays the talents of Nucleus both collectively and individually. Chris Spedding in particular can be heard playing in a variety of styles and often integrating these together—blues, jazz and rock—yet his inimitable Telecaster comping is instantly recognisable too.

Thomas himself is on fine form here and even congratulates Montreux winners Nucleus when introducing them on the final number. But it's also great to see this new Gearbox disc lovingly released as a double vinyl album (accompanied by a complementary download code) produced with Gearbox's customary meticulous care and obvious affection for the music.

Track Listing: The Creator Has a Master Plan; Echoes; Damn ‘Nam (Ain’t Going to Viet Nam); One; Chains of Love; The Journey

Personnel: Leon Thomas: vocals; Ian Carr: trumpet, flugelhorn; Karl Jenkins: oboe, piano; Brian Smith: soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute; Chris Spedding: guitar; Jeff Clyne: bass; John Marshall: drums

Title: Live 1970 | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Gearbox Records

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