Colosseum ‘Time On Our Side’ (RUF, Germany) 4/5

colosseumFor younger readers, Colosseum may be a unknown band name, yet for longer term fans on UK blues they have played an important role in the development of a distinctive British blues sound. Founding members drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith were members of the John Mayall band when they conceived of their own new group as well as being part of the highly rated Graham Bond Organisation that fused jazz, blues and soul. Along with Tony Reeves, the two founding members created Colosseum and the band was added to by keyboardist Dave Greenslade (formerly of Geno Washington’s Ram Jam band) and bassist/vocalist Mark Clarke. It was the latter who eventually replaced Reeves and Clarke, Greenslade and Hiseman remain to the present day from that second version. The band performed into the late 1970s, but by the end of the decade their sound was out of favour. Fast forward four decades and this brand new album is a welcome return for the revamped group and the good news is that they have not forsaken that early 1970s feel with the just the right mix of elements. Guesting on saxophone is Barbara Thompson who is a stalwart of the 1970s jazz music scene and new member Clem Clemsen who performs on guitar, keyboards and vocals. The lead vocals of Jon Hiseman come across as an in-between of the throaty delivery of Joe Cocker and the more nasal tones of Robert Plant, but there are some lovely jazz licks on the opener, ‘Safe as houses’. The pace is varied and there is some uplifting ska-inflected guitar on ‘City of Love’ with melodic chorus with a blues-rock guitar solo whereas ‘Blues to Music’, is a more relaxed blues number with guest vocalist Ana Gracey impressing on a duet with Hiseman, and this writer would like to hear more of Gracey’s voice in her own right. A tribute to co-founding member Heckstall-Smith comes in the from of ‘Dick’s licks’ which is a mid-tempo piece with subtle keyboards and vocals that recall Donald Fagan and Thompson lays down some soulful saxophone. The album never grates on the ear, nor sounds dated, and this is testimony to the musical talents of the band who maintain a melodic groove over the album as a whole.

Tim Stenhouse