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Alan Wakeman: The Octet Broadcasts 1969 and 1979

Chris May By

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Alan Wakeman: The Octet Broadcasts 1969 and 1979
Despite a perception fostered by the more breathless media coverage given to the young lions who have emerged on the London scene since the mid 2010s, an identifiably British strand of jazz did not kick off when Shabaka Hutchings' Sons of Kemet released its debut album in 2013. The groundwork was laid back in the 1950s by musicians such as saxophonist Joe Harriott and pianist Stan Tracey.

In the 1970s, two bandleaders who carried the torch for British jazz were bassist Graham Collier and pianist Mike Westbrook, with both of whom saxophonist and composer Alan Wakeman toured and recorded. Wakeman has never released an album under his own name, which is a shame. The bands he put together for these two BBC-commissioned performances, broadcast once only and then left to fade in the ether, reveal an inventive and engaging composer / arranger whose individuality blossomed in the decade between them.

The 1969 performance (disc one) was made just a few years after Wakeman had left music college and, at the BBC's request, the band includes such experienced luminaries of the British scene as saxophonists Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne, trombonist Paul Rutherford and pianist John Taylor. In deference to them, Wakeman himself takes only one brief solo. The instrumentation, arrangements and ambiance of the first and second of the three pieces, the raucous "Dreams" and the more balladic "Forever" (inspired by Victor Young's "When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever"), are reminiscent of Charles Mingus: the first in Mingus' visceral blues and roots mode, the second with his sophisticated Duke Ellingtonian hat on. The closer, "Merry-Go-Round," a more singular Wakeman piece, is a blend of free blowing and kitsch show-tune.

The 1979 performance (disc two) features another great band, retaining Skidmore and Rutherford and with Gordon Beck replacing Taylor, Henry Lowther on trumpet replacing second trombonist Nieman and Art Themen replacing Osborne as the third saxophonist. The five-piece suite, Chaturanga, is loosely based on chess (said to have originated in India as "chaturanga"). The title tune is reminiscent of a classical raga (Wakeman had previously visited India on tour with Collier) and the three saxophonists play sopranos, evoking the sound of shenai player Bismillah Khan. It is followed by a hard-bop rooted burner, a ballad, a short head-to-head freeform clash between trombone and tenor saxophone, and another burner.

Gearbox, whose roster of young London radicals includes tenor saxophonist Binker Golding, drummer Moses Boyd and tuba player Theon Cross, has done British jazz a service with this release. It is of considerable historical interest—and also a whole heap of fun.

Track Listing

Disc One: Dreams; Forever; Merry-Go-Round. Disc Two: Chaturanga; Manhattan Variation; Vienna; Robatsch Defense; Kingside Breakthrough.

Personnel

Alan Wakeman: saxophone; Alan Skidmore: saxophone; Mike Osborne: saxophone, alto; Paul Rutherford: trombone; Paul Nieman: trombone; John Taylor: piano; Lindsay Cooper: bass; Paul Lytton: drums; Art Themen: saxophone; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Gordon Beck: piano; Chris Lawrence: bass, acoustic; Nigel Morris: drums.

Disc One: Alan Wakeman: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Alan Skidmore: tenor saxophone, flute; Mike Osborne: alto saxophone, clarinet; Paul Rutherford: trombone; Paul Nieman: trombone; John Taylor: piano; Lindsay Cooper: bass; Paul Lytton: drums.

Disc Two: Alan Wakeman: tenor and soprano saxophones; Alan Skidmore: tenor and soprano saxophones; Art Themen: tenor and soprano saxophones; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Paul Rutherford: trombone; Gordon Beck: piano; Chris Lawrence: bass; Nigel Morris: drums.

Album information

Title: The Octet Broadcasts 1969 and 1979 | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Gearbox Records

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