Nostalgia 77 ‘Fifteen’ 2LP/2CD/Dig (Tru-Thoughts) 4/5

One of the underrated gems of the modern British jazz scene and veering well beyond during the last fifteen years, this wide ranging compilation celebrates the brainchild of the group, Ben Lamdin, and is a first and foremost a retrospective of the group creator. As such, it features the leader as performer and producer and in disparate genres ranging from jazz and soul to dub, hip hop, psychedelia and taking in a little blues and funk along the way. However, this is very much an anthology that allows the lengthier jazz pieces to sit side by side with the shorter pieces and is to be congratulated for doing so. One illustration of the latter, which was released as a double AA single to showcase the album is the gentle soul of, ‘Quiet dawn’, with Beth Rowley featured on vocals, and here the band playing is sensitive with a slight folk-soul edge and a warm saxophone solo. Afro-Beat tinged percussive workouts are exemplified on tracks such as, ‘Freedom’, with a drum roll out of the Tony Allen school, and equally, ‘Positive force’, with a strong big band feel. In fact, Nostalgia 77 work best, to these ears at least, when they are in their nonet formation and happily this anthology provides some fine examples of that extended brass ensemble work. A real favourite is the lyrical horn work to be found on, ‘Desert fairy princess’, and the expansive sound created on, ‘Measures’. Among influences, the Oliver Nelson and Charles Mingus big bands spring to mind and even Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, though on the modal post-bop, ‘Louts tree’. it is mid-1960’s John Coltrane and a tribute of sorts to the seminal, ‘A Love Supreme’, with a fine trombone solo. Female vocalists accompanying are a specialty of the band and one discovery for this writer was a project between Nostalgia 77 and British 1970 jazz icons, Julie and Keith Tippett from a 2009 album. The vocals of the former on the excellent, ‘You just don’t dream when you sleep’, disprove any belief that musicians of different eras cannot combine to useful effect. Singer Alice Russell is an artist in her own right with Tru-Sounds and well worth checking her back catalogue. Here, she offers, ‘Seven nations army’. Reggae dub is a different genre altogether, but on, ‘Medicine crest dub’, the band makes a decent stab. More sedate and substantial playing can be heard on the lovely, ‘Solstice’, worthy of an ECM release, with beautifullt pared down piano and trumpet in tandem, and, the tender, ‘Wildflower’.

Overall, a well balanced anthology, that is fully reflective of the different moods and styles that Nostaglia 77 are capable of capturing, and shedding a well deserved beacon of light on the South East England music scene, and especially that in and around Brighton, which is the label home of Tru-Thoughts. Fans of this compilation will want to explore further and the good news is that the band offer both quality and quantity in equal measure. For jazzier hues, try, ‘Borderlands’ and, ‘Everything under the sun’, while the live, ‘Seven’s and Eight’s’, takes the octet sound a step further. Those who prefer the more dance oriented flavours will find their nirvana in the double CD, ‘One off’s, remixes and B-sides’.

Tim Stenhouse