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Splinters: Split the Difference

Andrey Henkin By

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Splinters: Split the Difference One imagines that there must be literally thousands of sessions like this, live gigs by groups that only a small handful of people got to enjoy. The record industry being what it is, only the smallest percentage of musical interactions are documented and released. Reel Recordings, focusing its efforts on a particularly fruitful period in British jazz and progressive music, is trying to change that.

Splinters is an illustrative name for this band. As was more common in Europe, musicians separated by generation and musical aesthetic collaborated in the nebulous area between written and improvised music. The lineup of this 1972 concert (apparently the group, albeit with different personnel, played several times during this year), from London's 100 Club, might seem irreparably segmented: saxophonist Tubby Hayes and drummer Phil Seamen were part of the British hard bop scene in the '50s-60s while drummer John Stevens and saxophonist Trevor Watts were firmly ensconced in the avant-garde radiating from their Spontaneous Music Ensemble. In between this irresistible force and immovable object are pianist Stan Tracey, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and bassist Jeff Clyne, three players equally comfortable in either camp.

But special things happen in live settings and Hayes and Seamen were the progressives of their day while Stevens and Watts never rejected tradition. So this septet sounds remarkably integrated, approaching the two long tracks (47 and 30 minutes respectively) without preconceptions or agendas. The term free-bop has become overused but it is apt for this recording. The drummers are not afraid to keep time or abandon it and Hayes is unparalleled in fortitude; had he been born a little later, he could have easily challenged the Brötzmanns and Breukers, Parkers and Portals. But much of the credit for the success of the session goes to the pliant swing of Clyne, theRon Carter of British jazz.

Hayes would die just over a year after this concert and Seamen in less than six months. The rest would continue pioneering, though rarely together. Enjoy this moment as much as they surely did.

Track Listing: One in One Hundred; Two in One Hundred.

Personnel: Tubby Hayes, Trevor Watts: saxes; Phil Seaman, John Stevens: drums; Stan Tracey: piano; Kenny Wheeler: trumpet; Jeff Clyne: bass.

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Reel Recordings | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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