Reviews Column 52: Jazz Prog

Three-disc set The Warner Bros Years 1969-1972 chronicles Herbie Hancock’s transition from the R’n’B pocket grooves of Fat Albert Rotunda into the hybrid Afro-centric space jazz of Mwandishi and Crossings.

The latter album was hugely admired by John Wetton and Bill Bruford, who used to kick some of its passages around in King Crimson soundchecks. With these gravity-defying grooves, icy drifts of cosmic Mellotron and white-hot soloing, it’s easy to understand why. Presaging Hancock’s move towards less angular music, these albums remain startlingly vital, brimming with still-potent ideas and inspired execution.

January 1975 (LiveLove) from guitarist Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House is fiery stuff. One of the few pioneering jazz-rock exponents not to spring from the late-60s Miles Davis finishing school, Coryell’s fleet-fingered runs zip between fearsome storm fronts of Alphonse Mouzon’s frantic drumming and jolts of Mike Lawrence’s FX-enhanced trumpet. It all swoops between rhapsodic flights of fancy and good-time, chugging boogie, and the laid-back vibe between the fireworks works well. Coryell’s somewhat neglected in comparison to his contemporaries such as McLaughlin, Corea, Hancock et al in the jazz-rock sphere, and this radio broadcast suggests that some rehabilitation of his bristling virtuosity is overdue.

US quintet Moraine serve up a smartly assertive sound dominated by guitar, violin and brass on their third album _Groundswell _(MoonJune). Confident writing encourages some neat, sharp-witted interaction among interleaving themes and snappy episodes. Occasionally these mostly short and direct pieces register on the RIO/Canterbury scale of harmonic complexity, and they benefit from the ornery guitar of Dennis Rea, his fretboard ruminations eschewing any sleepwalking or cliché.

On Trialogue (Jazzland) Bugge Wesseltoft (keys), Henrik Schwarz (computer/percussion) and ex-EST bassist Dan Berglund create an alluring space filtered through ambient gauze, downtempo contemplation and yearning, luminous melodies. Intimacy and a gentle grace are the hallmarks of their set, the power and depth of which manifest via a series of slow but masterful reveals. Schwarz’ computer-generated beats add a subtle dancefloor propellant from which Wesseltoft’s restrained piano embellishments effortlessly take flight, joined by Berglund’s arco swoops.

UK trio Troyka bring us their third album Ornithophobia (Naim Jazz), and at times the combination of quirky, topsy-turvy themes and abrupt time-signature shifts is reminiscent of the slightly manic humour hardwired into Canterbury faves Egg. That’s only reinforced when keyboardist Kit Downes invokes Dave Stewart’s warm fuzztones during the give-and-take crunch of Magpies. Aside from the crisply marshalled attack and drive of Joshua Blackmore’s drumming, their use of space is masterly. There’s reflective calm in Bamburgh, a rolling amble to Seahouses, and the slow-burn throb of The General sees guitarist Chris Montague spur his colleagues into a sprint of a finish, with reversed notes shooting past the Porsche-engine purr of Downes’ Hammond. Nice.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.