Chris Biscoe has played in the bands led by the great British composer Mike Westbrook and/or his wife, singer and lyricist Kate Westbrook, every year since 1979 bar one. He is the Westbrooks' first-call saxophonist and clarinetist and the love runs both ways. It also rings out on every track of this beautiful album.
The concept is straightforward. Biscoe has taken seven Westbrook pieces out of their original, mostly big band, contexts and arranged them for a small group, rather as might be done with tunes by Duke Ellington. The source albums are Kate's Goodbye, Peter Lorre (Femme Music, 1991) and Mike's Citadel / Room 315 (Beat Goes On, 1975), Mama Chicago (RCA, 1979), The Cortège (Original, 1982), On Duke's Birthday (HatART, 1985) and L'Ascenseur / The Lift (Jazzprint, 2002).
The eight track album (it is bookended by different arrangements of the title track) is performed by an A-list quintet completed by bassist Dave Whitford, drummer Jon Scott, guitarist Mike Outram and pianist Kate Williams. Biscoe is the chief soloist, followed by Outram. Whitford and Scott do not solo as such, but Biscoe lists them above Outram and Williams on the sleeve with good reason, for they are the unobtrusive glue which binds the album together. Two tracks are Biscoe only: "Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado" features him overdubbing four horns, "Wasteground And Weeds" has him on baritone only.
Everything about Music Is: Chris Biscoe Plays Mike Westbrook is near perfect: the simplicity of the concept, the choice of material, the uncluttered nature of the arrangements, the quality of the performances, the clarity of the recording. A little gem.
Music Is; Mama Chicago; Goin' To Chicago; Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado; View From The Drawbridge; July '79; Wasteground And Weeds; Music Is.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.