Featuring guitarist JOHN McLAUGHLIN!!
Originally released in 1968 on Major Minor Records in the UK and now available on CD for the first time ever! Digitally re-mastered from the original Stereo analog master tapes. Includes the original album cover artwork and liner notes exactly as they appear on the original LP. Features Gordon Beck on piano, John McLaughlin on guitar, Jeff Clyne on bass, and Tony Oxley on drums.
This could be the most creative jazz quartet album ever recorded in Europe. Which might seem an exaggerated claim, but isn't: and for two very good reasons. The first is that previous quartet recordings in London, or on the Continent, and including the best, have consisted of a rhythm section accompanying a leading soloist; whereas this one features a genuine collective development along lines which no other group, except Gary Burton's in America, has yet proceeded. The second and probably more important reason is the actual quality of the musicianship. And by quality I mean much more than just each member being an outstanding player. One expects this, and there are always arguments and counter-arguments about who is the best jazz pianist, guitarist and so on in a particular country. But the way these four players have merged their abilities to form an ensemble and to explore the material is quite remarkable. It represents a big step forward in European jazz, and an exciting one, with new standards of rapport, feeling and improvisation: almost a musical clairvoyance. But also a step that is logical and straight-ahead, without any weirdness or difference for the sake of being different.
The idea of 'Experiments With Pops' was a direct result of the successful 'Doctor Dolittle Loves Jazz' LP, a trio interpretation of the Leslie Bricusse film-score which Gordon Beck recorded with bassist Kenny Baldock and drummer Jackie Dougan - and which now has a follow-up in their 'Half A Jazz Sixpence' LP. Immediately after the 'Dolittle' sessions, I suggested to Gordon that he might find it worthwhile to explore, in depth, several of the more interesting items from the popular song charts. He seemed enthusiastic, although we both agreed that this could only be done by a process akin to metabolism: reshaping and building up the original sources into proper jazz vehicles instead of merely converting X or Y 'pop' song into swing-time. Also, Gordon expressed the wish to do this job with his regular trio, featuring Jeff Clyne on bass and Tony Oxley on drums.
Gradually, in the weeks that followed, the whole thing began to emerge - after sifting through dozens and dozens of recent songs and with Gordon - from some small first insight - finding ways for the trio to perform each final selection. The quartet was really an afterthought. Gordon 'phoned me one night, said that he's been listening to a new guitarist of world-class called Johnny McLaughlin, and that if we added him to the sessions we would get a more interesting ensemble without having to change our basic approach to the music.
And so to the sessions ... although words are usually inadequate to describe good music; or for instance how these four individuals became a creative team. The album should be listened to at this point.
These Boots Are Made for Walkin', a song composed by Lee Hazelwood, and Nancy Sinatra's first big hit, is taken at a searing pace and after being thoroughly rehearsed just before the session was in fact recorded in one take. The sustained impact of the group's performance is very exciting, and even as Gordon and Johnny McLaughlin take their solos the bass and drums keep reminding the listener that the whole thing is a collective development. Norwegian Wood, a number from the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" LP, is taken at an easier, but still-swinging tempo - with Johnny McLaughlin playing a twelve-string acoustic instead of his usual electric guitar. Sunny, composed and first recorded by American Bobby Hebb, features Gordon alone. He examines it out of tempo and adds some beautiful embellishments. Up, Up and Away, originally popularised and very well by the Johnny Mann Singers, lasts for over eight minutes in this quartet version. It undergoes a regular series of tempo increases without ever disturbing the overall flow, until at last the balloon flies away 'higher' than any of the instruments. Michelle, another Beatles' song, also features changes of tempo in its first statement of the theme, but afterwards the pre-dominant feeling is up. But I Can See for Miles, in contrast to its first recording by The Who, is played very slowly and carefully and is perfectly ensembled from beginning to end. As Gordon commented at the session: 'I imagined us all standing on the seashore, able to see out for miles and with Tony playing the sea.' The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, in my opinion the finest pop single of recent years, is different again. Johnny McLaughlin plays the verse-melody on Spanish guitar, then Jeff Clyne introduces the chorus-melody which is also a rhythmic figure, and then all four musicians, briefly and freely play the different vibrations which the music suggests to them. Gordon calmly re-introduces the verse, but the next chorus-melody leads to another free section and a fascinating climax. Finally there is Monday, Monday, first popularised by the Mamas and the Papas, and here, after its introspective beginning, a further occasion for excitement. Fittingly the album ends, as it began, with a demonstration of collective jazz enterprise - so that the eventual fade-away is like a cross roads with a clear signpost which says: GROUP DEVELOPMENT.
I believe it is most auspicious that this is a European, and not an American jazz record. For it shows that the age of the inferiority complex has definitely passed.