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Chris Spedding: Songs Without Words

Roger Farbey By

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All five musicians on this retrieved-from-the-vaults archival release were at various times alumni of bands or recordings directed by British veteran jazz composer Mike Westbrook. Songs Without Words was produced at the end of 1969 under the aegis of Peter Eden (who produced several early Westbrook records for the Deram label), on the condition, imposed by Chris Spedding, that if he didn't like the finished product it wouldn't be released. So it was shelved after the recording, probably because Spedding wanted to launch a solo career in rock and this was, essentially a jazz album. Oddly though, the album did see a release in Japan, on the Odeon (1970) and EMI labels (1971). This freshly disinterred version has been edited (with around seven minutes excised from the original) and remastered by Spedding and now includes a bonus track, "Sub-Continental Drift."

"Station Song" is an instrumental version of the track which first appeared on Pete Brown And His Battered Ornaments' A Meal You Can Shake Hands With In The Dark, co-written by Spedding and poet, lyricist and vocalist Brown. Paul Rutherford on a rare "straight" outing, as opposed to his usual free style, supplies a feisty, bluesy trombone solo here. "Plain Song" features a duet with Spedding on acoustic guitar and Potter on bowed double bass. The languid melody played by Potter is based over a two chord vamp.

John Marshall introduces "Song Of The Deep" with an In A Silent Way rhythmic pulse, appropriately augmented by modal piano à la Herbie Hancock, with Spedding, Rutherford and Mitchell all offering some engaging solos. By contract "The Forest Of Fables" is a very short exercise in "experimental" collective improvisation before segueing into "New Songs Of Experience," an electric piano-led jazz rock theme, with Rutherford and Spedding providing sporadic rumbustious solos all over a lively 4/4 rhythm.

Bluesy slide guitar adorns the short "I Thought I Heard Robert Johnson Say," which builds up to a frenzy and then subsides. The final, bonus track "Sub-Continental Drift" is a curious mélange of styles with bits of raga, country and blues thrown in to produce an almost mesmerising effect.

Chris Spedding's contribution to British jazz in its so-called golden age (its apogee being the years 1968-1972) was absolutely essential to several key recordings made in this period, including early ones by Jack Bruce, Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook and Nucleus. His unique comping style coupled with the deployment of an idiosyncratically twanging, chiming Fender Telecaster tone made a significant difference, unceremoniously helping to usher-in jazz rock to an increasingly receptive audience, many of whom were rock to jazz converts, largely due to him. This album gives the listener a tantalising taste of what might have developed had he taken a different career direction.

Track Listing: Station Song; Plain Song; Song Of The Deep; The Forest Of Fables; New Song Of Experience; I Thought I Heard Robert Johnson Say; Sub-Continental Drift.

Personnel: Chris Spedding: guitar; Paul Rutherford: trombone; John Mitchell: piano; Roger Potter: bass, double bass; John Marshall: drums.

Title: Songs Without Words | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Hux Records

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