If British jazz/rock progenitor Ian Carr and his Nucleus group had made any kind of splash in the US with early albums like Elastic Rock (Vertigo, 1970), they had become largely forgotten by the mid-1970s. That's unfortunate, because they continued to record and tour in the UK and Europe and, with the exit of keyboardist/reedman/composer Karl Jenkins, became a significantly stronger vehicle for Carr's identity.
Later albums like Alleycat (Vertigo, 1975) lacked the panache of the earlier classics, but a strong mid-'70s lineup emerged that actually superseded the original group in performance. UK Tour '76 is the latest in a string of rescued live shows and radio recordings, but the first to document Carr's mid-'70s version of Nucleus, an exciting group that was never satisfactorily captured on a studio album.
The majority of these players had been in place since 1974, but the addition of drummer Roger Sellers in 1975 gave Carr a consistent lineup, and the most interactive in the group's history. Elements of electric-period Miles suffuse the group"Snakehips Etcetera even begins with a high hat-driven pulse similar to the iconic trumpeter's "It's About That Time, from In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). But as Miles moved farther away from swing, it remained an integral part of Nucleus. Sellers and bassist Roger Sutton straddle the line between jazz and rock during Bob Bertles' powerful and occasionally outré alto solo on the fiery "Nosegay, but shift into straight-ahead mode behind Geoff Castles' equally impressive electric piano solo.
Ken Shaw is not as eminently distinctive as earlier Nucleus guitarists Allan Holdsworth and Chris Spedding, but he's a far better accompanist, interacting more intuitively with Carr on the bluesy "You Can't Be Sure. Leading into the appropriately titled mid-tempo ballad "Pastoral Graffiti a feature for Bertles on fluteas unquestionably strong as earlier incarnations were, they always felt somehow compartmentalized. Not so here, where constant interaction is the defining characteristic.
This incarnation's direct energy and immediacy also contrasts with the freer approach of earlier groups documented on albums like Live in Bremen (Cuneiform, 2002). "Splat begins with Sutton's fuzz bass solo, leading into a powerful rock groove that features finds Shaw and Castle soloing together as a preface to Carr's wah-wah trumpet facing off against Bertles' soprano.
Carr is strong throughout but, in many ways the UK's answer to Miles, he gives greater space to his bandmates. Based on the strength of their playing here, it's a shame that Bertles and Castle never went on to greater recognition. The American scene has always been somewhat insular, but rescued recordings like UK Tour '76 now shed much-needed light on important activity taking place just an ocean away.
CD1: Snakehips Etcetera; Phaideaux Corner; Alleycat. CD2: Nosegay; You Can
Ian Carr: trumpet; Bob Bertles: alto, baritone and soprano saxophones, flute; Ken Shaw: guitar; Geoff Castle: keyboard, synthesizer, percussion; Roger Sutton: bass guitar; Roger Sellers: drums.