The British trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther, who first made an impact in the 1960s and released the well received album Can't Believe, Won't Believe (Village Life) in 2018, came to jazz via a circuitous route. After playing cornet in a provincial Salvation Army band, he moved to London around 1960 to study violin at the Royal Academy of Music. While a student, he encountered improvised Indian music and albums by Sonny Rollins, discoveries which encouraged him to commit to jazz, playing trumpet and flugelhorn. In the late 1960s, in the company of drummer Jon Hiseman and ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce, Lowther was among the first British musicians to explore the interface of free jazz and rock.
Lowther has recorded often, but mostly as a member of other people's bands. So this 2 x CD collection of previously unreleased music by his band Quarternity, which gigged a lot but never released an album, is doubly welcome. It was recorded live in the studio between 1974 and 1978 with the core quartet of Lowther, guitarist Phil Lee, bassist Dave Green (also heard on the aforementioned Can't Believe, Won't Believe) and drummer Trevor Tomkins. They are joined on most of the tracks by tenor and soprano saxophonists Art Themen and Alan Wakeman (separately, not together). Lowther also plays violin on a couple of tracks. Chris Laurence plays bass instead of Green on the last three tracks on the second disc.
Lowther composed seven of the tunes, Lee the remaining five. Lee is another player whose profile in the 1970s was overshadowed by other musicians, notably John McLaughlin and Chris Spedding, perhaps because he did not embrace pedals and effects to the extent of either of those players. His sound on Never Never Land is amplified, period. The music is lyrical, swinging and varied, moving from attractive ballads such as Lee's "Your Eyes Are Love" to the proto-skronk of Themen's tenor on Lowther's "A Night In Amnesia" and Lee's "No Surprises." Lowther mostly plays open horn but takes up a Harmon mute on his own "The Story So Far." Formats are simpletheme, solos, theme is the normand the focus throughout is on individual soloing. Sound is good, but production basic. Archive label Jazz in Britain is to be thanked for filling in another piece of the lost 1970s British jazz jigsaw.
Start Right; Never Never Land; Chinese Wand; Third World Song; Jack And John; Your Eyes Are Love; The Story So Far; A Night In Amnesia; No Surprises; Your Dancing Toes; Zemlja; Richie Street N1; Third World Song.
Henry Lowther: trumpet, flugelhorn, violin; Phil Lee: guitar; Dave Green: bass; Trevor Tomkins: drums; Art Themen: tenor and soprano saxophones (5-10); Alan Wakeman: tenor and soprano saxophones (11-13).
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.