I have had the pleasure of meeting both Daryl Runswick and Tony Hymas. Both are giants of British jazz, although sadly both are also now less well-known than they deserve to be.
Runswick, classically trained composer, arranger, producer and educationalist, took his first steps into the jazz world in the mid-1960s playing double bass with the likes of tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. His C.V. also includes work with the London Sinfonietta, The King Singers, Simon Rattle and Ornette Coleman. As a session musician he has recorded and worked with Alan Parsons and Elton John to name just two. However, he is probably best known as bass player with John Dankworth with whom he toured for some 12 years from 1973. His relationship with Dankworth is something that he has in common with pianist Hymas as they worked together in Dankworth’s groups. Prior to this, Hymas worked as company pianist for the Ballet Rambert and thereafter on the busy London session scene of the 1970s. Later he worked with guitarist Jeff Beck and had a Top 10 hit with the group Ph.D.
It seems that for Runswick, in a career spanning so much activity, the jazz years take up a relatively short period of time during the 1970s. Runswick has released an earlier compilation album covering his small group work, mostly quartets and quintets, plus another specifically devoted to the music he produced with his quartet featuring saxophonist Ray Warleigh.
This latest release focuses on the work of the Hymas-Runswick Big Band from 1974 and adds a later session from 1978, apparently the idea of jazz record producer Denis Preston in a Latin Fusion style somewhat reminiscent of Carlos Santana.
The earlier session brings together the cream of the British modern jazz scene of the time. The slightly unusual line up consists of three trumpets, three saxophones, two trombones, French horn, tuba, vibes, and a conventional rhythm section. The repertoire is made up of four compositions, three by Runswick and one by Hymas. The opening piece ‘When the Bough Breaks’ is from Hymas and features Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Stan Sulzman (tenor sax) and seems to me to be typical of contemporary Big Band jazz of the period.
Runswick’s ‘Lainey’s Tune’ follows and is a very relaxed introspective piece with fine solo contributions from alto saxophonist Ray Warleigh and Don Rendell on tenor sax.
‘The Generals of Islamabad’ moves into jazz-rock territory and is great fun with contributions from Hymas on Rhodes electric piano, Frank Ricotti on vibraphone and the inimitable Kenny Wheeler. I’m reminded of some of Mike Gibbs’ early music here. ‘In Three’ completes the section in a similar vein with an impassioned solo from Stan Sulzman on soprano saxophone along with Chris Pyne on trombone and Dave Horler on the less often heard valve trombone. Some of the writing here brings to mind the work of Colin Towns with his celebrated Mask Orchestra. Towards the end, there are even echoes of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
The remaining six pieces comprise the music for the Denis Preston session under the title of Senor Funk. Keyboard duties here fall to Alan Branscombe aided by Runswick and Mike McKenzie and Hymas is absent. The opening piece ‘Love Song’ written by saxophonist Tony Coe features characteristically ethereal wordless vocals from Norma Winstone, evoking memories of her own debut recording, Edge of Time. Runswick arranged this and all of the remaining pieces and valuable solo contributions are supplied by Lowther, guitarist Phil Lee and Coe.
‘Irene’ is a joyous composition from pianist John Taylor with typically oblique clarinet from Coe and more from Lowther. This is great fun.
The remainder of the compositions, except one, are Runswick’s and his ‘Canto’ opens with the composer’s bass guitar and is certainly a funky piece. Phil Lee is featured on guitar and there are wordless vocals from Winstone and Mike McKenzie, the latter also contributes a piano solo.
‘Strains for Laine’s Brains’ sees Lowther and Winstone take up the melody line in unison very effectively before they both get the chance to shine individually.
Ornette Coleman’s ‘Dee Dee’ is next and sounds like great fun with Daryl singing along to his bass in the manner of a latter-day “Slam” Stewart. Tony Coe follows with a slippery alto solo and McKenzie gets another piano feature.
The album concludes with ‘One for Denis’ and allows McKenzie another feature and, as on many of the other pieces, Winstone’s wordless vocals on the theme statement adds considerably to the overall effect. We are also treated to more soprano saxophone from Tony Coe.
The music is very well recorded and presented but is clearly of its time. I’m reminded of the larger Nucleus incarnations and some of the work of Nick Ingman. Having said this the album was a joy to listen to from start to finish and as a record of what was happening on the British modern jazz scene of the 1970s it is invaluable.
Whether as a composer, arranger, bass player, pianist, record producer, broadcaster or educator, Daryl Runswick is the real deal. Find out more about the great man here: www.darylrunswick.net
If you get the chance to see either of these great performers in person don’t miss the chance. They simply don’t make them like this anymore.