This live recording which took place on 25th May 1968, celebrated the last night at Ronnie Scott's Club in London's Gerrard Street. Scott and his business partner Pete King moved the club in 1965 to its current location in Frith Street, but as the lease had a couple of years left to run they generously handed it over to younger musicians to run it as a temporary venue. The "Old Place," as it became known, finally closed in 1968. So it was that Mike Westbrook's played the last night of the club in Gerrard Street and at that date they previewed a truncated version of the forthcoming Westbrook album Release which was eventually recorded on 7th and 9th August that year. This CD is a memento of that occasion.
"The Few" opens the set with John Surman in typically boisterous mood soloing on baritone, quickly followed by Mike Osborne's gorgeous rendition of "Lover Man" and the segued "Forever And A Day." Dave Holdsworth renders an unrestrained trumpet solo on "We Salute You" before a recapitulation of "The Few." Surman's teasingly extended opening solo on "Flying Home" lasts a full two minutes before reaching the famous ensemble theme. The whole piece is an extended version of the one subsequently recorded on the studio album and generates a positively electric atmosphere to an audibly ecstatic audience. By the time we get to "Who's Who" it becomes clear that Surman was to Westbrook's 1960s Concert Band what Eric Clapton was to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Equally important are Westbrook's memorable riff-laden numbers such as the appropriately titled "Can't Get It Out Of My Mind" and "A Life Of Its Own," within which a cacophonous collective improvisation is sandwiched.
With some extraneous audience noise permeating the music, the recording quality is not quite of the highest standard; Westbrook's solo on "Sugar" is rather muffled due to the citing of the single microphone. However it is easily good enough to appreciate the superb musicianship and, of course, Westbrook's compelling arrangements. Besides which, this is an album of truly historic significance being the only commercial recording available of the Westbrook Concert Band playing live in its early Surman period. This was also a fitting gig to commemorate the end of an important era in the annals of British jazz. Elegantly presented in a six-sided digipak, with photographs and sleeve notes by journalist and author Richard Williams and Westbrook himself, this is a very attractive release indeed.
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