Make no mistake, this vinyl box set reissue of the entire EMI Columbia oeuvre of the Rendell Carr Quintet is the British jazz equivalent of resurrecting the Dead Sea Scrolls(*). Although not the first time these ultra rare albums have been reissued (BGO Records obliged fans with these on CD, mostly as two-fers, in 2004) this is however a first for vinyllegitimately that is. It took Gerald Short, owner of Jazzman Records a mere twenty years to persuade Universal Music to permit him to license these records. In fairness, the hiatus was due in part to Universal being unable to locate the original paperwork. For the first time these five records have been reissued in a box set accompanied by a booklet containing new sleeve notes by Ian Carr
biographer Alyn Shipton.
In the course of this reissue the original analogue master tapes were sourced from Universal Music and masters were then created to produce audiophile quality 180 gram pressings. Each record cover was then afforded replica artwork which accurately reflected the shape, design and even paper stock of the originals. However, contrary to the original 1960s pressings, these five records (as with the BGO CD releases) have been reissued in stereo. Monophiles who object to this should remember that the RCQ was truly groundbreaking and the first jazz group in the UK ever to play wholly original material. So the inclusion of, albeit limited, multi-tracking to effect stereo is not merely appropriate but positively welcomed. The RCQ began to flourish in temporal tandem with The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
(Apple Records, 1967) and this innovative apotheosis was delivered by dint of four track recording resulting in a multi-textured psychedelic stereophonic apocalypse.
The Rendell-Carr Quintet was unique in the 1960s for playing all original material, predominantly their own or occasionally that of their friends. Their style was, for want of a better term, iconoclastic
, from the outset. No other group sounded like them and it was no coincidence that they won so many Melody Maker jazz polls. The RCQ was voted top small group in the Melody Maker Jazz Poll (British Section) for three years running from 1967-1969. Similarly Ian Carr was voted top trumpeter for those same three years. Shades of Blue
(Recorded 1 and 2 October 1964)
was the first released album by the Rendell-Carr Quintet. It is distinctive in its moody and haunting LP sleeve cover portraying Carr's first wife Margaret in monochromatic blue. The depiction of this strikingly beautiful young woman, gazing sombrely into the middle distance, fundamentally contributes to the atmosphere created by the music on the album, particularly the title track. Margaret died in 1967 at a tragically young age, less than three years after this recording was made which adds to the poignancy of the image.
Equally haunting is Colin Purbrook's "Blue Mosque," which absolutely nails the mood for the whole album if not the RCQ sound itself. Considering Purbrook was featured on only the first RCQ album, this was quite a feat. The lyrical piece has a dreamy quality with an edge defined by the hook line's gentle spiralling. Don Rendell solos on soprano followed by an elegant solo from Purbrook. Rendell's breezy "Latin Blue," as its title suggests, combines both Latin and blues elements. Rendell solos confidently on tenor and Carr follows with a short unmuted solo. The third track "Just Blue," again by Rendell, is a low blues and the tenorist is heard again soloing with warm, rich lines. Carr doesn't play on the track so it's essentially the Don Rendell Quartet by any other name. "Sailin'" composed by Carr's brother Mike is a medium tempo 12 bar blues in 6/8 time. Carr takes three choruses worth of solos straight after Purbrook's piano solo. The first chorus Carr plays seems slightly stilted and restrained but the second and third choruses are more relaxed and confident.
Rendell's "Garrison 64" shows Carr at his most inventive. "Blue Doom" jointly written by Rendell and Carr is the first real slap in the face. A hard bop outing with a very distinct and catchy opening and closing theme. Carr is on form here with muted trumpet bursting forth a torrent of notes. The penultimate and title track, Neil Ardley's classic "Shades of Blue" could hardly be more different than the preceding track. Slow to the point of almost standing still, it is an incredibly beautiful composition and Carr's solo is full of depth and emotion.
The final track is Carr's own "Big City Strut," a jaunty blues with a short bridge passage appended to the theme. Carr and Rendell both solo confidently and Purbrook continues to play in an ebullient style which anticipates his successor in the piano chair. All the players seem relaxed, enjoying the space this number affords. The tune finishes with an unusual and seemingly discordant motif repeated six times as if to remind the listener that this is not just any old bop group. The closing theme is followed by a passage of horn-led improvisation which begins to fade out after the fifth bar. Dusk Fire
(Recorded Lansdowne Studios, London, 16, 17 March, 1966). Michael Garrick
's lengthy title track is distinguished by a peculiar discordancy between Rendell's soprano sax and Carr's trumpet in the climactic stage of the memorable theme. The track is a powerful statement and arguably one of the RCQ's best.
The majority of the remaining tracks are quite sombre but not oppressively so. "Ruth" and "Jubal" both by Rendell are thoughtful, beautiful pieces. "Tan Samfu" is lively and "Spooks" (a joint Rendell and Carr tune) is almost Ornette Coleman
-esque at times, evoking early Coleman/Don Cherry
interplay. Garrick's "Prayer" is another slow, beautiful number and is followed by the tearaway "Hot Rod" written by Carr and Garrick. Apart from the strange oddities mentioned above, "Dusk Fire" has a live feel to it when three quarters of the way in there is some quirky off-beat hand clapping, seemingly a prodding for Dave Green's bass solo. Taken as a whole, there's no doubt that the Quintet by this time had matured into an unbeatable band that was one of the leading forces in modern British jazz.
The playing throughout is excellent and Carr particularly is exhibits a masterly quality that is bordering on, but not quite attaining, an abstract almost avant-garde approach, whilst Garrick's sprightly and innovative piano work gives the band a distinctiveness that is not found anywhere else. Listening to the record 50-plus years after it was recorded, it doesn't seem to have dated, inasmuch as good compositions, arrangements and performances such as these are unlikely to date if they inspire so much in the musicians and the audience. One final oddity about this album is that it was released in mono. Why this could or should happen is a mystery but it can only be assumed that for economic reasons and given its limited pressing (500 copies only?) EMI might have felt constraint to only release it in mono. Phase III
(Recorded Lansdowne Studios, London, 23 February, 1967).
RCQ Records was at its this stage of its recording career. Phase III
is a curiously effective album that succeeds where other albums fail. It was the most satisfying album to that date, not least because it is here, at last, that Carr takes on the lion's share of the composing duties. Three of the five tracks here are by Carr. Also by this third album, (entitled Phase III
not merely because of its place in the band's recording history, but because, as described in Alyn Shipton's biography of Carr (Equinox, 2006), this was the name used by London Electricity at that time as a late night tariff. The album's deployment of unusual time signatures was becoming more noticeable. A prime example is "Crazy Jane" which veritably leaps out of the speakers and is rendered an almost frighteningly assertive take compared to the previously recorded version on the as yet un-reissued Springboard
(Polydor, 1966), which also featured Trevor Watts, Jeff Clyne and John Stevens.
Rendell's "On!" is a springy boppy number that exudes excitement, the solos encased in a crisp shell of a theme. Clearly there may have been some deliberate intention to make the first two tracks on the album very lively ones. The third however, Carr's "Les Neiges D'Antan," is quite different. Its slow paced arco bass is similar in feel to other Carr track found on Springboard
but here it's given a slightly heavier and more dramatic treatment. On the first two tracks, Garrick's over-the-top piano takes on an almost pastiche feel at times, bordering on scherzo or even schizo. However, with "Les Neiges D'Antan" the whole group plays with much greater depth of feeling. The fourth and fifth pieces are by Rendell and Garrick respectively. "Bath Sheba" is reminiscent of Rendell's "Ruth" and again he is playing flute here. Slow to begin with, it then takes off with a lively second section embellished by Carr's vibrant trumpet. This double-sided theme is re-introduced with plentiful soloing all-round and more flute and trumpet followed by Garrick's sensitive piano and Dave Green's bass.
In the earlier (Springboard
) recording of "Crazy Jane" the rendition is angular and forceful and in the second (Phase III
) there is a more jocular air largely due to Garrick's piano, but the initial shock remains acute on both recordings. Again, this is quite unlike anything heard before. On "Crazy Jane" Carr demonstrates a searching quality coupled with incisive, stabbing runs, his short statements over a lengthy solo perpetually seeming to end in questions marks. But the quality of his soloing is never in doubt. By the time his compositions are revived on Phase III
Carr is clearly the strongest soloist in the Quintet. His compositional skills, although slow to emerge, were now clearly beginning to take off and in a very substantial way.
Garrick's "Black Marigolds" bears no comparison to the earlier version on his own album of that name. This is a much fuller version of a composition which works more satisfyingly in this new context as a quintet piece. The slow build up to a harmonic crescendo is reminiscent of the title track on the much-vaunted Dusk Fire
but this one succeeds on its own merits. There is the same ruminative feel but here the snake charmer sound becomes hypnotic. It is at this point that it's easy to see why so much controversy surrounded the RCQ. They were quite simply playing like no other band in the world. At times, as on this track, they began to defy idiomatic definition. Taken as a whole this album probably represents the RCQ's finest hour although there are also some moments on their final album Change Is
, which are quite incredible too. Live
(Recorded Lansdowne Studios, London, 18 March, 1968).
The RCQ's fourth album was somewhat misleadingly titled Live
. Despite the unusually intrusive and seemingly self-conscious appreciative applause and raucous whooping following solos, which almost sounded contrived at times, this is really a studio album by any other name and indeed was recorded at Lansdowne Studios in front of an invited audience. The compositions here however are just as good as before. The music on the album is as lively and demanding as its three predecessors, typified by the opener "On Track" beginning with a fanfare duet between the two horns. Garrick's piano ensures that any semblance of the complex blues-based structure from which this composition derives is soon overshadowed by the band's extraordinary virtuosity. Carr gives a fine solo here.
Rendell's ballad "Vignette" is exquisitely beautiful and crucially underpinned by Carr's muted trumpet introducing the second theme. Here again, the RCQ shows its imaginative streak with Rendell playing clarinet, an instrument at the time more usually confined to the depths of Trad jazz. The version of "Pavanne" heard on this recording" was composed by Carr and drummer Trevor Tomkins
and was also heard on the RCQ's Live In Antibes
(Spotlite, 2000). Undoubtedly it's the RCQ"s definitive version of the piece. "Nimjam," a lively sixteen bar blues, is the only track not written by members of the group, but composed by Jeff Hedley who gave it to them a few years earlier and which they had not yet recorded. In contrast to the all guns blazing approach of "Ninjam," Garrick's cerebral and typically eloquent "Voices" gives Carr more opportunity to shine, here sounding lithe and confident on muted trumpet and Garrick himself begins to sound almost like Cecil Taylor
at times during his solo whilst Rendell gets to play some ethereal flute. The closing track, the bebop influenced "You've Said It" by Rendell and Carr is a deceptively complex piece made to sound facile. Carr's playing on this album is confident and masterly and on at least three occasions he plumbs the depths of the lower registers of the trumpet to almost high trombone levels. Noticeably his solos seem to attract more robust applause than other soloists. Overall this is an excellent album which would have perhaps benefited from the overzealous applause being editing out. Change Is
(Recorded Lansdowne Studios, London, 20 March & 16 April, 1969) Change Is
signified a magnificent end to a truly remarkable group. This album also signalled, as implied in its title, a great change in jazz. Indeed, the music throughout is fresh and inspired and nearer to Nucleus than the RCQ, although nothing really sounds like Nucleus other than Nucleus. The record was augmented with extra percussion, provided by the irrepressible Guy Warren (also known as Kofi Ghanaba) and reeds man Stan Robinson, later to join Rendell's band, plus Clyne playing additional bass on the first track. The first track "Elastic Dream" predated Carr's Elastic Rock
by a year but the overall approach to the music on this album heralded the forthcoming, groundbreaking Nucleus. Introduced by Warren's talking drum and an insistent bass line, the main theme for this track is highly memorable. Even the ensemble sections sound different from the RCQs previous recordings.
Mike Pyne's blues "One Green Eye" (on which he is featured here playing piano) is the only track not written by regular members of the RCQ. The sound created is perfectly relaxed and encapsulates exactly the late 1960s early 1970s Coltrane-influenced modern jazz feel but infused with the RCQ's own special highly idiosyncratic character. On Carr and Rendell's bizarrely named blues "Boy, Dog and Carrot," Warren plays maracas, whilst Garrick plays some of the most irreverent and satisfying jazz harpsichord ever heard, and at one point with such gusto that the instrument can be heard literally creaking in tremulous fear. Garrick's first contribution to this album is a superb, wistful version of "Cold Mountain" that sends shivers up the spine. It culminates, as in many of Garrick's major compositions for the Quintet, with a hypnotic trio-based improvisation, followed by a bass solo treated briefly with echo for dramatic effect, leading back into the original piano melody, which is then joined again by the horns. The penultimate track, "Black Hair" again by Garrick, is livelier but loses none of the composer's sensitivity and its opening melody is proof of this. Carr is heard first soloing on muted trumpet followed by Rendell on flute.
Rendell's "Mirage" closes both the album and in effect a chapter in jazz history. This is a memorable, rock influenced track redolent of the age in which it was recorded. Both Rendell and Carr produce masterly solos here. Change Is
is a very satisfying album indeed. Whilst Ardley's Greek Variations
(EMI Columbia, 1970), recorded later in 1969, contained tracks composed and performed by him, Rendell and Carr respectively, Carr's tracks were actually played by a prototype of Nucleus (almost the complete line-up). Change Is
is only one step behind this. Carr wanted to move on and his eagerness for change can be very clearly discerned on this album. Little known fact: In the late 1960s the RCQ played a venue at 15 Bath Lane, Newcastle Upon Tyne called Change Is. Could this have been the inspiration for the title of their final album?
A final word concerning the packaging which is superb. Each of the five albums has a front-laminated sleeve which exactly reproduces the original front and back covers including the (EMI) Columbia logo which is delightfully reproduced on each record label. Even the record inner sleeves echo those printed by EMI in the 1960s but with Jazzman albums instead of those of the period. The heavy 180 gram vinyl sounds absolutely stunning evincing a great booming hi-fi sound with palpable bass notes and crisp, lively top registers. Within the sturdy box there are new sleeve notes by Alyn Shipton and rare, previously unseen photographs. Despite the "mono" label on the covers, the records have been mastered in glorious stereo. This is without doubt the reissue of the decade.
(*)An original vinyl copy Shades Of Blue
was listed on eBay in October 2018 for an eye-watering £3,500 ($4,500). Do not be surprised if at the time of publication, this new re-pressing of the RCQ has completely sold out.