Well, you could say that the Eagle has Landed with the release of not one but all FIVE albums by legendary British 60s quintet, headed by saxman Don Rendell and trumpeter, Ian Carr. This very special and long-awaited project has been down to the dedication, blood (possibly), sweat, tears and downright dogged persistence of UK independent Jazz related label owner, Gerald Short, of Jazzman Records.
Although some albums are more sought after than others in this box set, the end result is something of an achievement considering Short first approached Universal music 20 years ago to licence just one album initially. As is common in record corporations that have bought other record companies over the years, they did not have all of the paperwork to hand and at some point was not sure where the master tapes were in the world!
What made these albums go from great to rare or near mythical status were the quality of the compositions, the quality of the original production (courtesy of just as legendary Denis Preston at his Lansdowne studios in London) and presentation of the record sleeves.
The line up of the quintet had changed over the years but the music throughout was always contemporary and bold.
Starting with SHADES OF BLUE (recorded 1st and 2nd October 1964) – ‘Blue Mosque’ kicks off proceedings with a nod to the various combos recording for Blue Note, Prestige and Columbia records at the time (Miles Davis, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard etc.). Whilst this initially sounds like an American post bop easy goer, the overall feel is quintessentially British. Rendell weaves a wonderful soprano saxophone spell on this which you could almost mistake for Yusef Lateef.
‘Latin Blue’ and ‘Just Blue’ – the next two cuts do exactly what they say; the ‘Latin’ track sounding more like a light bossa and ‘Just..’ being a down at home blues number with again some tasty play from Rendell on tenor and soprano.
The other stand out tracks here are ‘Garrison ’64’- a joyous bluesy bopper where you get an impression that what the whole band are playing, they are enjoying themselves and the title track ‘Shades of Blue’ composed by the ever talented Mr. Neil Ardley. This one is just a moody and seductive piece that will be at its most potent late at night with the lights turned down (or off!). This certainly gave rise to some of the quintet’s later powerful compositions.
DUSK FIRE was recorded under the supervision of Denis Preston towards the end of 1965 and was notable for the change in personnel. A change that would leave its mark on the quintet; pianist from the ‘Shades’ album, Colin Purbrook departed and Michael Garrick was brought in to replace him. Garrick brought with him a compositional dexterity and variedness that would take the quintet through different styles and forms in the coming years.
You can feel a change in style, pace and confidence on this album; the compositions are generally longer and the group seem to ‘explore’ their instruments more. Carr’s muted trumpet solo on ‘Ruth’, the opening track, shows an unabashed powerful elegance which you just didn’t get on the quintet’s first outing. Garrick’s solo just gives you a hint of what he is capable of when in full flow. As his solo ends, Rendell comes in on flute which doesn’t feel as incongruous as it did in one or two places on the debut album – a perfect opener.
‘Tan Samfu’ is a joy to listen to as everyone is on form and this one just bounces along. One to play loud on a half decent system to get the full benefit.
Another cut worth mentioning here is ‘Spooks’, which is slightly abstract in structure – which does not make this difficult to listen to. On the contrary, it shows the listener what these guys can do if you let them. It features Rendell on clarinet and Carr playing some damn fine flugelhorn with Garrick tickling those ivories with stabbing statements throughout.
Side 2 starts with ‘Prayer’ – an initially serene, spiritual piece that moves up a pace or two before settling back into serenity once more.
‘Hot Rod’ is akin to Miles’ ‘Milestones’ in its tempo and overall feel with masterful solos from the horn players – a serious one from Garrick and they also manage to give the drummer (Trevor Tomkins) some…
Which all nicely leads up to the album’s tour de force title track. This has of course appeared on Universal’s ‘Impressed With Gilles Peterson’ compilation from 2002 and is quite frankly a 12 minute brooding spiritual masterpiece.
PHASE III kicks off with ‘Crazy Jane’ – a straight-ahead bluesy/boppish affair (the ‘Crazy’ parts topping and tailing the piece) with, strong solos from piano, trumpet, saxophone and Dave Green on bass.
‘On’ hits us with an uptempo shot in the eye with a little play on time signatures; the solos are all on point and propelled to ever epic and powerful heights by Trevor Tomkin on drums.
Whilst ‘Les Neiges D’Antan’ is a reflective piece which feels mostly improvised with the musicians feeding off one another’s playing, ‘Bath Sheba’ is a pensive ballad that will put a smile on any listener’s face with flugelhorn, flute, piano and acoustic bass all taking their moments to impress.
As with the ‘Dusk Fire’ album, a lengthy and almost dream-like Michael Garrick composition rounds out this long-player. ‘Black Marigolds’ was previously recorded in a much shorter form on the Garrick Septet album two years prior. This version adds an eastern flavour to proceedings with Rendell on soprano and Carr muted trumpet. The players approach this one in a more subtle, yet intense manner which just adds to the overall performance that must be experienced by the lucky listener. This one will sound extra special on a nice system or quality headphones at home.
LIVE was recorded at Lansdowne studios in March 1968 in front of around 40 folks, so there is still quite an intimate sound. The title is a little mis-leading also for the fact that you would expect a ‘live’ album to be mostly full of the music previously recorded on past albums but the compositions here are new.
What a start with ‘On Track’ – a pulsating 8 minute piece with that modern 60s jazz sound. This sound is obviously what the quintet were aiming for as they all seem to make their individual presences felt with their solos – the most outstanding of which is Ian Carr on trumpet sounding on par with the likes of Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw – quite something to behold!
‘Vignette’ is another nicely constructed ballad that is more than worthy.
‘Pavanne’, like ‘On Track’, has been given a modern feel (for the day) and sounds like the next level that this quintet is moving towards with that fresh Eastern tone throughout. There are lots of special things going on here with the composition, arrangement and performance of this one, with some saying this was a time that Ian Carr was thinking further outside the original quintet box and perhaps forming the original genesis for his Jazz-rock super group Nucleus.
‘Nimjam’ is the first track on side 2 and whilst a frenetic jazz bop affair, has plenty of modern arrangement that doesn’t make it sound dated in a late 60s London jazz environment – a solid cut.
The similar modern treatment is given to ‘Voices’. The whole straight piece is showered with modern touches, a first class arrangement with changing tempos and a delicious bass solo from Dave Green to boot.
‘You’ve Said It’ sounds at first like vintage Rendell/Carr quintet but as with every other track on this album takes some ‘liberties’ with the arrangement and solos.
Of the five albums, LIVE is possibly the best of the bunch – but I know the buyers on Discogs say otherwise…
CHANGE IS represents a few things; first there were more musicians on this album with the addition of percussionist Guy Warren, Mike Pyne on piano (on one track but Garrick was still on the others), bassist Jeff Clyne and Stan Robinson on tenor sax and clarinet. The other first is the rather boring album cover for this one with just the two men standing there holding their instruments.
‘Elastic Dream’ starts with Warren’s talking drum followed by Jeff Clyne on his bowed bass before opening up with the rest of the group in a subtly soulful jazz vein. The bass duet between Green and Clyne is a pleasure to listen to but marred somewhat by Warren and that talking drum once more.
This album seems very influenced by the Miles Davis quintet of the same period with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter and the next two tracks ‘One Green Eye’ and ‘Boy, Dog and Carrot’ sound like the sort of arrangements that Miles would actively encourage with the latter piece sounding like it had taken elements of ‘Eighty One’ in its arrangement. This quintet does take the track one stage further and in comes the shakers and Michael Garrick on harpsichord to make this song truly their own.
‘Cold Mountain’ begins side 2 with a slow, stirring introduction from Rendell on soprano and Carr on flugelhorn before Rendell solos with the rest of the original quintet providing support. The tempo shifts up a couple of notches during Carr’s solo stint which opens the space for Garrick to make his solo statement in fine fashion. The now heightened pace is then handed over to Tomkins on drums and then the bass of Dave Green to bring things back down that mountain to terra firma. An ambitious rearrangement for Garrick’s composition.
‘Black Hair’ is the other Garrick composition on display here and starts the man in solo classical mode on piano before the tempo eases to a modal pace with Carr featured on muted trumpet. A delicate and very English sound pervades here with Rendell’s flute sounding almost folk-like in its execution. Garrick chimes in with another piano flourish that just makes this something that you could not dislike if you tried.
The Rendell written ‘Mirage’ ends this album with a no-nonsense jazz modal piece which seems very fitting as this album, like the ‘Live’ album, shows the listener what this combo could do – the straight ahead to soulful and fusion jazz to the slightly abstract and avant. The Don Rendell / Ian Carr quintet were it.
Jazzman Records have shown nothing but the utmost respect for these important recordings by sourcing the original master tapes and cutting new discs from those original masters. They have reproduced the original album covers too, right down to using the similar paper stock. We can be assured that these remastered reissues were not simply copied from an old vinyl copy and ‘cleaned up’ digitally; we are getting the next best thing to those originals from 50 or so years ago on 180g vinyl too.
For those serious, and some might say rather wealthy individuals, that may have paid huge sums for these albums over the past years, you can still feel secure in knowing that you have the originals. But for the rest of us mortals, this release will be something special to behold and a testament to quality British jazz that refused to be forgotten or ignored by a younger generation who were probably just about taking their first breath on earth when these five albums were originally released.