Deep in the hazy annals of progressive rock’s earliest years lie an elite but almost forgotten gallery of shape-shifting pioneers and fallen heroes who, although they blazed among music’s brightest sparks at the time, fell by the wayside as the trickles they had first tapped swelled into the tidal wave later called prog. Described by drummer Jim Capaldi as “the magic man in Traffic”, Chris Wood was this most seminal band’s sax and flute player, a mercurial nature boy who tried to follow the sun and, in his quest, blew ethereal shapes across Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, along with albums by John Martyn, Nick Drake and several more before falling to the bottle and mainly recording privately before passing away in 1983.
Former Island Records press officer Neil Storey spent four years putting together this beautifully measured tribute to Wood’s colossal talent. Avoiding obvious greatest hits (although there’s a sprinkling of Wood’s finest moments with Traffic throughout), Storey trawled personal archives with Wood’s sister Steph and even Island garbage skips for old tapes and previously unseen photos that grace the lavish 200-page book that accompanies the four CDs and LP. His booty included fabulous home recordings, often on cassette, and Vulcan, the unreleased solo album Wood recorded in 1977, found in a country barn and reproduced here on vinyl in its original sequence. Wood sends flurries of flute and ethereal sax over the small band’s loose, shimmering early jazz funk hybrids, vividly painting tracks such as the gently reflective Tone Blind Rhythm Deaf and oriental-flavoured Birth In A Day.
The set also includes selected tracks from sessions Wood played concurrently to Traffic, including Martyn, Drake, Gordon Jackson, Free, Crawler, Martha Velez and Ginger Baker’s Air Force and short-lived post-Traffic outfit Mason, Capaldi, Wood And Frog, topping a rarely intimate portrait of a tragically-curtailed giant, forgotten no more.