Daryl Runswick – The Jazz Years 2CD (ASC) 5/5

There was a time in the 1970’s when Daryl Runswick was the man to watch on double bass. This double CD charts that period when he was most active in jazz. He was held in high esteem equally by his musical peers and jazz fans. Over the years he has worked with the cream of the British jazz crop. Indeed, we have saxophonist Bobby Wellins to thank for encouraging him to enter the jazz world full time, as Runswick was all set to become a producer at BBC Radio 3. What a loss that would have been. However, Runswick was not lost to the BBC entirely, as your reviewer remembers many times that he would be featured in many and various jazz groupings on BBC’s Jazz Club.

So eponymous was Runswick that it would be almost impossible to document on CD every jazz setting that he found himself in. These recordings concentrate largely on groups under Daryl’s leadership.

This compilation covers the period 1970-1978 – a period in British contemporary jazz that was particularly fertile with musicians such as John Taylor, John Surman and Mike Gibbs, to name just three consolidating on foundations laid in the late 1960’s.

All of the pieces were recorded in pubs and clubs with no intention that they should ever be released commercially. Despite this, the recording quality is very good and the musicianship is perhaps of a more elevated standard than if the participants were expecting to be immortalised on vinyl.
CD one opens with five pieces from the Runswick Quartet from November 1973. This group was interesting as it included the veteran Don Rendell on flute, tenor and soprano saxophones alongside Alan Branscombe, a pianist of a slightly later generation also featuring the then fashionable Fender Rhodes electric piano, together with the young Turks, Spike Wells at the drums and Runswick.

The opening track is a Runswick blues based on a lick often played by fellow pianist Wynton Kelly and named ‘Wyntones’. Here we get lovely flute from Rendell and a delightful solo from the pianist coping manfully with a less than perfect instrument. A delight for me is that the bassist is not submerged in the general sound mix as so often is the case in live recordings and indeed, turns in a wonderful solo.

The next piece is a Calypso, again written by Runswick. Here we get to hear Rendell’s tenor saxophone in full flight. The whole joyous performance is underpinned by Runswick’s bass.

‘Lainey’s Tune’ written for the bassist’s then wife, Elaine, is a more reflective piece and seems to take on a more contemporary persona with the introduction of the electric piano. Again, we are treated to a fabulous solo from the keyboardist and more tenor from Rendell.
‘Starkers’ is next – an upbeat tune with Rendell on soprano and more electronic wizardry from Branscombe, surely a forgotten master on his instrument. Wells is particularly busy on this piece too.

The longest of these pieces is the ‘standard’ ‘There is No Great Love’ clocking in at over seven minutes and featuring opening bass pyrotechnics before piano and drums enter on the melody statement. Thereafter it is swing all the way. Rendell delivers a typically questing solo, as does the bassist, before ending the piece by re-stating the melody.

All of this was recorded only two days after Runswick returned from Cleo Laine’s legendary ‘Live at Carnegie Hall’ tour, that album having been recorded in October 1973.

The Jimmy Webb tune ‘MacArthur Park’ follows and runs for over eighteen minutes. This is a feature for the London Jazz Four. Jim Phillip blows with vigour on soprano saxophone. A calm piano interlude follows before the pianist Mike McNaught ups the tempo once more. Philip switches to tenor for a more contemplative passage before the bassist takes centre stage for a fabulous arco passage. The piece ends with more frantic soprano saxophone with the band in full flight.

The mood changes again with Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without Her’. This time Philp shows his versatility on flute and is equally passionate as on soprano saxophone. Mention too should also be given to Mike Travis whose drumming is featured to good effect on this piece.
The oldest piece on the album actually pre-dates the 1970’s and is from 1967 and features Runswick singing a Clive James lyric to his own tune ‘Song of the Double Bass Player’.

Space doesn’t permit me to go into any greater depth other than to say, disk 2 contains a further eight tracks in similar vein including two tracks from a 1974 quartet session with musicians largely contemporary to Runswick, Stan Sulzmann on tenor sax and flute, Tony Hymas on keyboards with Spike Wells remaining from the previous incarnation of the quartet. Thereafter there are three tracks from a similar lineup but with Harold Fisher replacing Wells and the collection conclude with three pieces from a quartet featuring Alan Skidmore on tenor sax, Mick Pyne on piano and Fisher at the drums and dating from 1978. All exemplary performances.

Sadly for the jazz world, Runswick was shortly to forsake “the late nights and low pay of the jazz scene for the friendlier hours and greater security of the session world”. He finally hung up his bass in 1983 to join vocal group Electric Phoenix as their tenor singer and resident composer.

Alan Musson