Reviews Column 61: Jazz Prog

As rock music underwent a massive transformation in the late 60s and early 70s in the UK, so too did jazz.

Producer Peter Eden invested time and money via his own indie label to capture some of the best and brightest at the time. Turtle Records: Pioneering British Jazz 1970 - 1971 (RPM) is a superb box set presenting three long out-of-print and highly collectable albums by John Taylor, **Howard Riley and Mike Osborne**. From Taylor’s driving modal bop to Riley’s knotty and harmonically experimental intrigues and Osborne’s fierce ensemble work, the range and breadth of this music is utterly exhilarating; a reminder that some elements in the jazz scene were just as artistically ambitious as their counterparts in rock. A comprehensive booklet by Colin Harper completes this essential release.

In August 1971 Soft Machine were undergoing a remarkable and far-reaching transition. Booting out founder member Robert Wyatt following Fourth’s release, Mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean replaced him with Phil Howard, a member of Dean’s Just Us side project. Howard’s drumming made a profound impact upon the group’s direction, pulling them toward the spikier edges of free-jazz. Drop (Sireena), a red-coloured 180gm vinyl reissue of a live set first issued in 2008, captures them in all their meteoric glory, with explosive readings of material drawn from Third and other, by-then, well-established pieces. There are moments when the themes and melodies sound as though they’ve been rammed hard against the percussive fusillades. Bracing yet brilliant, they’d never sound like this again.

John Stevens’ Away (BGO) collects the three albums that the drummer’s group recorded for Vertigo in ’75/’76. Perhaps surprising some on the free-jazz scene, Stevens, best known for his pioneering work with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, launched an excursion into more accessible rock-orientated sounds. Of these three, records, John Stevens’ Away and Somewhere In Between retain the necessary voltage required to make the hair stand up.

Once the enfants terribles of the UK’s 80s scene, Loose Tubes split in 1990. They served up a brashly energetic, stylistically diverse fare under the direction of future Bill Bruford collaborator Django Bates. Combining rousing vintage live recordings with a 30th anniversary concert from last year, Arriving (Lost Marble) shows their wacky inclinations intact. Away from the UK jazz scene, Italian bassist and Pat Mastelotto collaborator Lorenzo Feliciati proffers Koi (Rare Noise), which offers his intelligent and lyrical compositions combined with neatly executed grooves and spacious, thoughtful solos. Sleek, accessible, and with an ambient sound-design that lends a cinematic feel to the music, it works exceedingly well.

Finally, Grammy-winning Bob Belden, producer, composer, sax player and archivist, tragically died earlier this year. Featuring his regular Animation crew and guest Bill Laswell, Machine Language (Rare Noise) was his final recording, and what an outstanding one it was.

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.