The ongoing search for rare and hitherto unavailable jazz grooves has reached a logical conclusion here with a timely exploration of the lesser known side to British jazz. While the likes of Tubby Hayes, John McLaughlin and co have rightly been eulogised, even these all-time greats had to serve an apprenticeship somewhere and so re-examining the youth aspect of British jazz was always likely to be a win-win situation. So it proves on this excellent overview of the mid-1960s through to 1990 with the usual meticulous attention to detail and lavish illustration that has become a Jazzman release hall-mark. While a single release could never aim to be fully comprehensive, this nonetheless fills in more than the odd gap in our knowledge base and in the process throws up a whole host of jazz musicians, the majority of whom have been woefully neglected. By the 1970s jazz was very much on the retreat in the UK and thus it was left to independent labels to hold the fort. A very US sounding piano vamp greets the listener on the intro to ‘Martini Sweet’ by Joy, a group that makes one think of the Elvin Jones formations on Impulse. This writer especially likes the use of collective brass that included US trumpeter Jim Dvorak. Alongside drummer Keith Bailey, Dvorak co-founded the group in 1973 and the fiery alto saxophone solo comes courtesy of Chris Francis. There is even a slight Strata East independent sounding feel here which is surprising and this reviewer would like to hear more of them. Of any of the names, Graham Collier is one that will ring a bell with some and ‘Darius I’ is a fine piece of jazz fusion with subtle and catchy repetitive electric piano from Geoff Castle and trumpet/flugelhorn from Harry Beckett, a stalwart of the London jazz scene.
What impresses in this selection is the importance of jazz in the regions and the Midlands East and West both seem to have been fertile ground for the development of new jazz talent. In Walsall leader John Hughes founded in 1975 the Walsall Youth Jazz Orchestra and this served as an extremely useful training ground for musicians of the calibre of the Argüelles brothers, Jason and Steve, and Martin Shaw among many others. An interesting selection of a Chick Corea/John Patitucci original from the late 1980s, ‘The Dragon’ is the pretext for an enticing and delicate number that showcases piano and flute and is the most recent recording on the anthology. Moving from west to east, Nottingham did have a famous jazz record shop and Ken Clarke hails from that area too. What is less well-known is the existence of the Nottingham Jazz Orchestra and they offer up a terrific number, ‘Sixes and Severns’ that is part of a larger suite and the Severns in question is a homage to a long-established restaurant that date from medieval times and was re-assembled in the late 1960s. Back to the very heart of the West Midlands and its major city, Birmingham, and we have a group in Polyphony that should have enjoyed a far greater following. From 1973 comes the album title track, ‘Cameo’, the group was the brainchild of former Aston University student and pianist Dave Bristow who invited guitarist Richard Bremner and another member and Polyphony was thus created. The piece is a mainly acoustic number with jazz-rock guitar gently in the background, but never too intrusive. Another mysterious group that we need to know and hear more of. In a downbeat and reflective vein, the group Quincicism offer ‘Trent Park Song’ from 1973 and this includes a lovely soprano saxophone solo from Ken Eley and wordless vocals from Katy Zezerson. Fusion flavours trickle through in parts during the overall listening, but one of the strongest contenders for combining disparate genres is West Country group Indian Highway where flamenco and Wes Montgomery guitar licks seemingly collide in harmonious unison on ‘We Three Kings’. Quite possibly a second volume will be required at some point with Scotland a next potential destination of choice. In the meantime, revel in the rare sounds of UK jazz.