Cherry Red Records and its subsidiary labels excel in reissues; especially so with their occasional jazz-related box sets. Memorable examples include the 6-CD Jack Bruce
collection, Can You Follow?
, (Esoteric Recordings, 2008), Turtle RecordsPioneering British Jazz 1970-1971
(RPM, 2015) and most recently Gordon BeckJubilation!
(Turtle Records, 2018). Now they've done it again with a painstakingly assembled reissue of the first six albums by trumpeter/composer Ian Carr
and Nucleus, reflecting their Vertigo Records tenure. In common with other box sets, this assemblage comes with a 26 page booklet containing photographs, memorabilia and specially written new sleeve notes by jazzrockprogmeister general Sid Smith.
Whilst it's true that all these recordings, spanning 6 CDs, have previously been reissued on CD, most notably by BGO, this is the first box set of all nine albums and follows swiftly in the wake of the reissue (on vinyl) of the five Rendell Carr Quintet records made for EMI's Columbia label (Jazzman, 2018). When Elastic Rock
(Vertigo, 1970) was released, the general reaction from hearing just the title track was pretty much on the lines of "what is this music?" The only appropriate word to describe the first album by Nucleus is groundbreaking. Nothing had been heard in music before that sounded like Nucleus and the nearest approximation was perhaps the Graham Collier
Sextet which included John Marshall and Karl Jenkins. True, Miles Davis
had the previous year released In A Silent Way
and the Nucleus release almost exactly coincided with the release of Davis' Bitches Brew
. But, much as Nucleus founder Ian Carr
was inspired by Miles, Elastic Rock
was in no way based on anything Davis had recorded. Indeed, it was as though Carr had plucked a new sound out of the ether. Granted he had considerable assistance in the form of the ultra-talented Karl Jenkins (who subsequently became a classical music superstar and Knight of the Realm). But it was Carr who first had the idea of a jazz rock group that truly fused the two elements together without compromising either. The proof of this is perhaps to be found a year earlier in the Neil Ardley recording Greek Variations
(Universal Music, 1970) where Carr and his erstwhile colleague Don Rendell contributed suites to the album. One of Carr's most memorable tracks was "Persephone's Jive" which was recorded by a proto-Nucleus line-up and re-emerged on their debut album. Elastic Rock
(Vertigo, 1970). The fanfare opener "1916" segues into the title track written by Jenkins (as are so many of the compositions in the first two Nucleus albums), then follows "Striation" a duet by Chris Spedding and Jeff Clyne which leads into Brian Smith's majestic "Taranaki," underpinned by Marshall's steady, compressed rim shots. This segues into the lovely "Twisted Track" penned by Spedding and Pete Brown, previously heard on The Battered Ornaments' Mantle-Piece
(Harvest, 1969). The heavy rock of "Crude Blues Part Two" was so catchy it was famously used as a British jazz radio theme tune. Jenkins' riff-based "1916 (The Battle of Boogaloo)" perhaps anticipates "Song for the Bearded Lady" on their second album. But it's the insistently riffy "Torrid Zone" that encapsulates so perfectly what Nucleus was all about, again with Marshall's rim shots to the fore and flanked by the horns meticulously carving out the melody, a bass guitar line washed over by Spedding's jangling guitar. Here, at last, Carr is heard and gives one of his best, most memorable solos, deft, stabbing and gliding, aided only by the slightest touch of reverb. Carr's trumpet and Smith's tenor prove a perfect frontline partnership. Indeed Smith is an exceptional saxophonist whose confidence and skill underpinned the group. Incidentally, at 2' 32" into this track Carr interjects the briefest of quotes from "Summertime" which keeps resonating. Carr leads off on the next track "Stonescape" with muted trumpet, again penned by Jenkins this short-ish track is swiftly followed by the collectively-composed "Earth Mother" which curiously and rewardingly sounds anything but a group improvisation, perhaps due in part to Jenkins labyrinthine oboe solo. This is followed by Marshall's "Speaking for Myself..." drum solo which he executes without typical panache.This fades out and into the closing piece, a reprise of Carr's magnificent "Persephone's Jive." We'll Talk About It Later
(Vertigo, 1971). Again studded with Jenkins-penned compositions, this second album is not quite as flawless as its forerunner, but is nonetheless excellent album. Commencing with what became the signature theme for Nucleus, "Song for the Bearded Lady," this was later re-used by Jenkins for his composition "Hazard Profile Part 1" on Soft Machine's Bundles
(Harvest,1975). On this recording "Song for the Bearded Lady" is adorned by an inventive and vibrant Carr trumpet solo followed by a more searching Spedding guitar solo. "Sun Child," written by Clyne and Marshall is led by the bass guitar snaking along joined by guitar, drums and an oboe solo by Jenkins. Spedding's rhythm guitar here is supremely unique and satisfying. "Lullaby for a Lonely Child" is a revisit of Jenkins' gentle, timeless composition, first heard on Collier's Down Another Road
(Fontana, 1969). This employs some Carr soloing and unusually, Spedding on bouzoukieccentric instrumentation and reminiscent of Dr John's debut album "Gris Gris" (Atco, 1967).
The title track, again composed by Jenkins, is a slow bluesy number, with a Spedding solo which is rejoined by trumpet gradually building up to a climax and thence to a memorable fuzz driven riff taken up by the whole group ending abruptly mid-riff. Jenkins' "Oasis" starts as a free improvisation and transmutes into a Spedding/Marshall-led medium-to-fast tempo piece with Carr again soloing in great form. Indeed Carr is heard soloing more on this second album than on the first. So if Jenkins takes the role of dominant composer, Carr takes on the role of "chief" soloist, which is fitting for a man who has already co-led one of the most innovative British jazz groups of the 1960s. Jenkins however also has his fair share of solos on this and other tracks and favours the use of the oboe for which he justifiably won first place in the "Miscellaneous" section of the Melody Maker Jazz Poll (British Section) for three years running from 19721974.
The final tracks are co-composed by Carr with Clyne and Jenkins respectively and include "The Ballad of Joe Pimp" the lyrics of which are sung, presumably, by Chris Spedding. Although essentially a pop song, the melody and vocal lines are complex and satisfyingly accompanied by the horns in unison. The final track, "Easter 1916," the title of which refers to the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland, was written by Jenkins and Carr in a difficult 19/16 time signature. The poetic lyric to this track opens the number and, steeped in echo, is spoken/recited, by Carr. A fiery Smith solo ensues with some outstanding tenor work. The solo then gives way to Marshall's brief drum solo which ends abruptly and without warning terminating both the track and the album. Overall, this is another outstanding album which, in common with their debut album, definitely stands the test of time, even forty years on. Solar Plexus
(Vertigo, 1971). The previous two Nucleus albums were recorded in 1970 but not content with this, Carr went for a hat trick with a third, and arguably his finest album to date, again recorded in that year. Solar Plexus
derived from an Arts Council grant awarded to Carr and consequently the written score of the album was entirely composed by him. Most unusually, Carr had offered the cream of the trumpet parts on the album to his trumpeter friends Kenny Wheeler
, (who delivers a memorable solo on Side One's second track "Changing Times") and Harry Beckett. Beckett can be heard soloing on the last track of this side ("Spirit Level"), contributing a joyously and characteristically warm solo which culminates in the instrumental equivalent of the fadeout of animal noises at the end of The Beatles
' "Good Morning" from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
(Capitol, 1967). This is an extraordinary act of selflessness on Carr's part; himself a true maestro of the trumpet. Solar Plexus
is characterised by its fluidity both in terms of each of the six tracks and in the way they meld into each other. The album consequently has a more coherent feel than its two predecessors. Also there is a markedly orchestrated feel, unsurprisingly so since the usual line-up of Nucleus is augmented here by Tony Roberts on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Ron Mathewson on bass guitar, Chris Karan on percussion and Keith Winter on VCS3 synthesiser plus the two guest trumpet players each heard on four and two tracks respectively. Side Two starts with the joyous "Torso" in which the piece regularly modulates from major to minor. The track ends with a brief Marshall interlude which gives way to the final and longest track, "Snakehips Dream" which starts in typical slinky Nucleus fashion with an ostinato bass line overlaid by electric piano, rhythm guitar and vibra slap percussion. The work is punctuated by a brass section making it sound at times like a big band. There's a strong tenor solo from Smith followed by the introduction of an additional counter theme from the brass and a relaxed Carr solo (his only one on this recording), under which another theme from the bass is gradually introduced. The labyrinthine ensemble closing themes re-introduce elements of the previous tracks over which Carr occasionally plays a counter line. The ending is surprisingly abrupt and followed by a very short synthesiser coda. Solar Plexus
clearly demonstrates, for the first time, how talented Carr is as a composer. At this point, only a few of his own compositions had been recorded, the most notable of which were on Phase III
, Greek Variations
and Elastic Rock
, but here was an whole suite which put Carr into an entirely different category compositionally. The music was complex, particularly on the final track and offered very rewarding listening. Carr had reached an apogee of his career to date. Belladonna
(Vertigo, 1972). Nucleus, in all but name this was recorded on this occasion under Carr's name, presumably for complicated contractual reasons since all but Carr and Smith had by now departed from the original Nucleus lineup. However, such was Carr's resourcefulness that he managed within the space of twelve months to regroup an almost entirely new version of Nucleus and most importantly, did so without detriment to the overall sound. Dave MacRae was to prove equal to Jenkins on electric piano and his skills were augmented by the great Gordon Beck
on four of the six tracks. Allan Holdsworth
needs no introduction as a phenomenally talented guitarist and made this an all the more exciting recording. Clive Thacker on drums augmented by Trevor Tomkins playing percussion on three tracks replaced founder member and drummer John Marshall. Roy Babbington was already established in Nucleus and was as much an asset on this album as he was on the subsequent Soft Machine
recorded, by a new line-up enriched by Nucleus alumni.
The title track employs an extended trumpet theme later repeated to close the piece and another riffy theme which is introduced early on to consolidate the groove. There is a brief quote at 2.38 of four notes from Miles Davis
's "Sanctuary" from Bitches Brew
(albeit in a different key), a salute by Carr to his idol. The excellent near-fourteen minute title track culminates in a Carr solo, which is at first slightly faltering but ultimately evolves spectacularly. "Summer Rain" is a classic in understatement but totally effective in generating a unique atmosphere. MacRae stirs-up a terrific Fender electric piano solo here. Segueing into Smith's "Remadione" in a deceptively relaxed way, this third track provides the first proper solo on the album for Holdsworth. "Mayday" is initially dominated by funked-up comping wah-wah guitar and electric piano which migrates into a confident and powerful tenor solo by Smith until a short ensemble section closes the piece. The penultimate track "Suspension," opens with Smith playing bamboo flute. It's then joined by a figure played on electric piano after which the bass guitar introduces a memorable riff and over this Carr plays a thematic line and then solos on flugelhorn.
For guitar aficionados, the final track, Smith's "Hector's House" is undoubtedly the most satisfying, although all the other tracks have high degrees of merit. On this track, a horn fanfare leads into an angular, fast and distorted guitar riff over which the horns contribute a counter theme. Smith kicks off the solos with typically lithe soprano sax and this is immediately followed by Holdsworth executing an unbridled excoriating solo. It's arguably one of the most powerful and exciting guitar solos ever heard on a jazz album and the closing horn ensemble heralds an all-too-soon conclusion to this track. Labyrinth
(Vertigo, 1973). This lengthy work, composed by Carr (with lyrics written by his wife Sandy), was the result of a commission from the Park Lane Group with funds made available from the Arts Council of Great Britain. The suite is based on the ancient Greek legend of the Minotaur with musical instruments representing the various elements of the myth. According to the LP's original sleeve notes the bass clarinet represents the tragic element, the trumpet represents the heroic element and the voice represents the human element whilst the rest of the musicians represent the two societies of Athens and Crete who variously support the action of the main protagonists or comment on them. An almost diffident opening in "Origins," with sumptuous, teasing strands of bass clarinet, introduces the first theme which quickly fades out by blaring, staccato fanfares and big drums. A bass guitar figure starting in Eb opens the second track, "Bull-Dance," the ensemble subsequently reveals a second theme accompanied by the ethereal wordless voice of Norma Winstone
. This is of a complex structure which, in common with most of the rest of the 45 minute piece, sounds deceptively facile, which it most certainly is not.
The ensemble moves in and out, with solos from Tony Coe on bass clarinet and a lengthy, glissandi-rich Kenny Wheeler
solo. Interestingly, Carr chose to use Wheeler again (as on Solar Plexus
) to take the majority of the flugelhorn or trumpet solosan unusual move for the trumpet-playing leader and composer of such a major work. Even more so considering Carr himself was an acknowledged virtuoso of the trumpet and flugelhorn within the jazz world. The underpinning bass guitar returns the ensemble to close the piece which quietly segues into the third track, "Ariadne" which is introduced by Gordon Beck
on electric piano followed by Winstone's lyric-based vocal. "Arena (Part 1)" is really an improvised introduction to the fifth track "Arena (Part 2)" which presents a further theme introduced by Wheeler and then is taken up by the whole ensemble as a chant-like device with a descending line acting as in counterpoint to the ascending melody line.
A duet follows from Coe on bass clarinet and Wheeler which fades out into the triumphant "Exultation"; yet another theme played by the ensemble with scintillating, soaring vocals from Winstone and a chunky counter melody supplied by the rhythm section. MacRae supplies an excellent electric piano solo and a drum and percussion section follows, supplied by Thacker, Tomkins and drummer Tony Levin. The final track, the haunting "Naxos," is led by Babbington's bass guitar and taken up by the ensemble with solos from amongst others, Coe on bass clarinet, and a distinctive flugelhorn solo from Carr, heard soloing on this piece for the first time. The track is brought to a climactic endingwhich includes a contribution from Paddy Kingsland's VCS3 synthesiserand which satisfyingly resolves the whole work.
This was Carr's most ambitious work to datealthough Solar Plexus
comes a close second. Qualitatively there is little to choose between them since both pieces hold significant merits. Both are fairly complex although arguably Labyrinth
is more so. At this point in his career, Carr had clearly become bolder and more self-confident in his compositions. That he employed here some of the world's finest jazz musicians was not insignificant and it certainly paid off. Roots
(Vertigo, 1973). The title track opens this session with a slinky bass and guitarled riff, over which a brass motif is introduced and resolved by the ensemble in typical Carr fashion, by weaving all the lines together. The rhythm section then provides a platform over which Carr solos expressively and thoughtfully, introducing some effective electronic effects to the horn such as wah-wah pedal. At his solo's crescendo, the ensemble reintroduces the main riff, nicely topped off with some stonking piano chords after which the piece gradually fades out at around nine minutes. Roots
was originally commissioned by the Lambeth New Music Society as a forty minute composition so this is very much a condensed version. "Images" sounds at first like a pop song, but this is an illusion because it is meticulously constructed and the elegant arrangement affords some brilliant flute work from Smith. Joy Yates' silky vocals here are the main selling point, and the whole track seems to gel extremely well, MacRae's Rhodes sounding never better.
"Caliban," the third of the three Carr compositions on the album, is taken from a composition in four parts called "Ban, Ban, Caliban" commissioned by the Globe Playhouse in April 1973. This utilises a strong rhythm section riff which again is augmented and reinforced by the brass section. At times the climactic (and closing) ensemble sections sound almost Colosseumesque, Valentyne Suite
era. "Wapatiti," a samba, is a rumbustious and short Smith composition with the saxophonist taking the first solo on soprano followed by a jangly solo by MacRae. "Capricorn," Smith's next composition, starts in a pensive, Weather Report-ish mood. It slowly builds and segues dramatically into Smith's final item, the heavy (heaviest ever Nucleus track?) "Odokamona," a guitar and bass riff-soaked tune embellished by multitudes of Carr wah-wah pedal-infused trumpet. The music gives way to a tumultuous climax of shouting by the band, echoplexed into infinity. The final track is MacRae's "Southern Roots and Celebration," which is initially, a slow bluesy, echoy piece featuring keyboard and guitar which transmutes into a medium-to-fast paced brass-infused number. Over this Brian Smith plays bamboo flute, culminating in a uproarious riff-led fast tempo finale with Yates wordlessly singing to the point of almost screaming! As a whole, and for no apparent reason, this album works less well than previous ones and in truth some parts are better than others. There is certainly a lack of cohesion here and this is possibly the result of trying to follow an album as impressive as Labyrinth
. The title track however is outstanding and makes this album indispensable. Under The Sun
(Vertigo, 1974).The medium tempo "In Procession" kicks-off the proceedings, another typically inventive Carr track which owes much to his use of riff-led, dramatically executed themes. What sounds like ring-modulator is employed here over a repeated complex brass arrangement; there is no actual soloing and there is an unusual fade-out ending which includes some military marching library music. Bryan Spring's "The Addison Trip" is next up. This is a funky piece, with Kieran White guesting on Phil Minton
-like (circa Solid Gold Cadillac-era) wordless vocals. Roger Sutton contributes fine bass guitar on this track. The ballad "Pastoral Graffiti" contains flute from Bob Bertles. Carr is heard here too on what sounds like double-tracking. However, overall, although engaging, these first three tracks are not quite as impressive as other Nucleus/Carr offerings.
So far the tracks all seem to peter-out without ever being allowed to develop in any substantial way. However, from the very start "New Life," by Sutton, heralds a quite different dynamic. Complex horn arrangements over a repeated bass guitar motif, followed by swirling guitar and electric piano give way to a Ken Shaw guitar solo of considerable merit. Spring's drumming also seems to gain a new lease of life. Half way through, a false fade out brings in a new bass riff echoed by the ensemble over which Carr solos with wah-wah pedal making the trumpet slightly oscillate from one side of the speakers to the other. Nonetheless this is certainly a sign of improvement and by the plaintive "A Taste of Sarsaparilla" things have begun to get back on track.
There follows a suite of three tunes (or "Themes") written by Carr, which begin with "Theme 1 -Sarsaparilla" which is frankly one of Nucleus' best and was understandably included in the "Best of Nucleus" compilation Direct Hits
(Vertigo, 1976). "Sarsparilla" has a lot going on and is excellently arranged and includes a solo by Geoff Castle on electric piano and more wah-wah pedal trumpet from Carr. "Theme 2 -Feast Alfresco" again is much more typical of "classic" Nucleus with a serpentine brass theme developing and heralding a Bertles baritone solo followed by another engaging Shaw guitar solo. The brass theme is reintroduced and the beat suddenly halves and the tune is wound-up by the drums. "Theme 3 -Rites of Man" begins slowly but after barely a minute, a bass / electric piano riff is introduced and shored up by another quite complex brass arrangement. Not content with this Carr goes on to develop the theme even further to great success. A great drum solo by Spring is succeeded by the return of the original bass / electric piano (plus horns) riff and some trumpet and alto soloing leads to a gradual fade out. By now it is obvious that the second half of this record is far superior to the first half (although the first half is by no means bad) but like its predecessor there is some absolutely essential
Nucleus here. Snakehips Etcetera
(Vertigo, 1975). Significantly better than the previous two Nucleus albums, this saw the band right back on track. Curiously, for an LP that has as its cover sleeve artwork that would more suit a heavy metal band and an equally off-putting, highly sexist back cover, this is consistently good throughout. Bob Bertles fiery "Rat's Bag" opens up the session with Carr's wah-wah trumpet soloing for much of the track. Roger Sutton's funky "Alive And Kicking" is up next with ethereal voices used to introduce the main, complex, verse, led-in by a bass and drum line. The verse is repeated and there follows a powerful and imaginative Ken Shaw guitar solo which, in its crescendo, is augmented by the brass. The verse is reintroduced by the ensemble and ends with a false free freak-out followed by a sombre ensemble coda which is an instrumental rendition of the opening passage that had employed chanting voices. A short, quiet, guitar and trumpet duet ends the track. "Rachel's Tune" is a laid back number by Geoff Castle. The main theme gives way to a satisfying Bertles soprano sax solo followed by Castle himself soloing on electric piano and keyboards. All the way through, Roger Sellers proves his worth as far more than just a mere timekeeper; his essential drumming is precise and dominant.
The main focus of the album is on the title track by Carr, which is appropriately serpentine and yields several unexpected twists and turns. A quiet start to "Snakehips Etcetera" opens the piece and demonstrates clearly just how Carr's compositional technique works, for as soon as one theme is executed, a new and completely different groove replaces it. Carr's trademark brass ensemble passages, which so distinguished Nucleus from any other band, punctuate the piece. This perhaps more than any other work shows how demanding Carr's composition was. Not content to simply serve-up a ten minute work that involved no more than a solo over a couple of chords, this was entirely different. Carr created a long and involved construction where the trumpet soloing didn't even begin until seven minutes in.
The penultimate track, Carr's "Pussyfoot" is exhilarating in terms of its speed and drive. A theme is introduced, led by Bertles and consolidated by an attack of guitar and keyboards. Bertles remains on flute and gives a bravura solo before reintroducing the theme. Finally, Carr's "Heyday" concludes the album. A lengthy acoustic 12 string guitar solo by Shaw introduces the number until the main theme is brought in by the bass and the brass. This was one of Carr's most insistent and memorable tunes and does not disappoint here. Bertles' sax solo gives way to an excellent ensemble passage and a truly successful conclusion to a great album. Interestingly, this album along with the final Nucleus album recorded for the Vertigo label Alleycat
, was produced by Carr's long time friend and colleague Jon Hiseman (drummer and leader of jazz rock band Colosseum). This may well have accounted for its consistently high production quality. Alleycat
, (Vertigo, 1975). This, the last Nucleus album recorded for the Vertigo label, again meticulously produced by Jon Hiseman, was a good parting shot. Every bit as sinuous as anything else Nucleus recorded, the opening track by Roger Sutton, the curiously named, "Phaideaux Corner" was a funk opus. As with two other tracks "Alleycat" and "Splat," it benefits from auxiliary percussion provided by the ever-dependable Trevor Tomkins; there is some excellent sax and keyboard soloing here including Geoff Castle's utilisation of Moog synthesiser. The title track, by Carr, a long piece incorporating a suite of magisterial themes, is typically complex but also highly engaging, never losing momentum or interest at any time even during quieter parts. Carr builds up his initially 'straight' trumpet solo with later use of echo, to great effect. This is, of course, deliberate or otherwise, an evocation of 1970s-era Miles Davis
. There is some excellent guitar shredding by Ken Shaw too.
Carr's "Splat," the second longest piece at around ten minutes, is introduced by a fat, funky bass guitar riff which pervades and underscores the whole piece. The bass groove is pushed along by driving drums and percussion which are then joined by a brass arrangement which heralds a lengthy keyboard workout by Castle. There are quiet passages elegantly embellished by Tomkins percussive expertise. The ensemble passages are typically angular Carr inventions, played allegro
. It was undoubtedly a very demanding piece to play and finishes suddenly on an extended trumpet note. The Carr/Shaw and Sutton composed "You Can't Be Sure" is effectively a jam with Shaw on 12-string acoustic guitar, plus Carr and Roger Sutton on bass guitar. There's also some effective three-part soloing heard here. The album closes with Bob Bertles' astonishing "Nosegay," written perhaps as a response to some of the faster Mahavishnu Orchestra
pieces. It is yet another example of well crafted jazz-rock not having to compromise any of its jazz elements in order to produce the electrifying excitement of rock. Nor did this very dynamic group lose anything of the human element that some other contemporary bands tended towards especially when using multiple keyboards and synthesizers.