For those who were accustomed to seeing Jeff Clyne with double bass in settings ranging from the Jazz Couriers to Stan Tracey, Gordon Beck, Dudley Moore, and Zoot Sims, it may have come as something of a surprise to see him on bass guitar leading his own jazz-rock fusion group ‘Turning Point’. Why? I’m not entirely sure, as Clyne, one of the most questing of musicians, welcomed the chance to work in more progressive situations with Ian Carr’s ‘Nucleus’, ‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘Isotope’.
‘Turning Point’ were formed in 1975. It is often claimed that the band was formed by Clyne together with vocalist Pepi Lemer. However, to me, it always seemed to be something of a co-operative endeavour with Dave Tidball on saxes, Paul Robinson on drums and percussion together with the wordless vocals of Pepi Lemer. The link with jazz-rock fusion was cemented by the addition of keyboard player Brian Miller with whom Clyne had worked in Gary Boyle’s ‘Isotope’. Clyne noted that the partnership with Lemer dated from their working together on recording sessions and gigs and observing that their musical ideas had a certain unity of purpose. During the 1970s they recorded two albums: Creatures of the Night (1977) and Silent Promise (1978). Sadly, thereafter, they were lost to sight until the albums were re-released on one CD in 2009.
For Clyne, the band name signposted a change of direction and a chance to put his own musical ideas across. He noted the thrill of hearing his own music being played after working for so long in other people’s bands. The use of voice recalls the music of Chick Corea and Flora Purim, but the inspiration for the band was the French Progressive rock band ‘Magma’, having worked opposite them whilst still in ‘Isotope’. The vocals consisted of lines for voice as distinct from songs in the more traditional sense.
The addition of Miller on keyboards was a master stroke. The writing partnership of Clyne and Miller helped the band to avoid the bombast of a Weather Report and presented a certain lightness of touch to their performances. Notwithstanding this, some A&R representatives alleged that the music was ‘unfashionable’. As is often the case, what success the band garnered was solely down to their own PR and booking efforts. Although this effort did result in festival appearances and gigs at the most prominent London jazz venues of the time, the band failed to achieve their potential. Their final tour took place in 1980 when the group were augmented by the addition of guitarist Allan Holdsworth and composer and keyboard player Neil Ardley. The second album, Silent Promise, seemed to demote a slight change of direction with a more rhythmic approach.
With this new release, we have the chance to reassess the music from a standpoint some forty years after their final tour appearances. The album features six previously unheard live studio recordings plus one previously only on a Japanese CD. One piece, ‘Eppik’, appears in two versions which opens with a soprano saxophone and drums dialogue reminiscent of some of John Surman’s work. It’s only a short time before the melody is introduced with keyboards, saxophone and voice sketching this out. Once the theme has been dispensed with, the feel changes and Clyne’s funky backbeat is highlighted with tenor saxophone sailing above, before passing responsibility to the keyboards. The whole is held together by the drummer’s forceful backbeat. Clocking in at around ten minutes, this is an epic performance in every sense. However, many of the tracks here are of similar length. ‘Turning Point’ has its own unique sound and the presence of the wordless vocals seems to make for melodically accessible listening linked with some very complex musical passages all played with aplomb. As these are live sessions, the band are afforded the luxury of being able to stretch out with extended passages which embellish what were merely musical motifs on the original albums and it’s interesting to see where the band takes the music.
The album opens with the episodic ‘Queen of the White E’ which is quite astounding, moving through several moods to great effect and it’s fun too. For me, the standout track is ‘Silent Promise’ which seems to typify the band’s unique mix of delicacy and power. Once again, Miller’s keyboards add a new dimension to the music. Many of the pieces of the album have unexpected twists and turns ‘The Journey’ begins relatively sedately but by the end, we are left wondering where we are journeying to – somewhere far away, that’s for certain. ‘Vanishing Dream’ is a delightful ballad performance. It opens with acoustic piano underpinned by the bass and topped off with an atmospheric tenor saxophone. The voice enters around the mid-point and in the end, I’m left wishing that this performance was longer. ‘Better Days’ opens with magnificent solo bass guitar from Clyne, before falling into a hypnotic rhythmic pattern ushering in the vocals and soprano saxophone. The album closes with a further interpretation of ‘The Eppik’. Composer credits are split between Miller and Clyne with the title track coming from the pen of Dave Tidball.
Using the voice as an additional instrument was nothing new. The musical scene known as the Canterbury sound, associated with progressive rock and a loosely defined improvisational style, made extensive use of such a devise. It certainly works well for ‘Turning Point’. The recorded sound is generally good and I would draw particular attention to the wonderful cover design from Richard Moore. All credit is due to the team at Jazz in Britain for arranging the release of another wonderful slice of British jazz from the 1970s.