GIGS

May 18, 1969

GIGS: Mike Westbrook Band – 18 May, Mermaid Theatre, Puddle Dock, London, premiere of ‘Metropolis’. Barry McRae (in Jazz Journal 22/7 July 1969) wrote: “Metropolis, Mike Westbrook’s work produced under a bursary from the Art’s Council, was premiered at the Mermaid Theatre in May, thanks largely to the untiring efforts of the London Jazz Centre. Musically it was an enormous success both in conception and execution. There were times in the opening movements when the two ‘rhythm sections’; one, the group’s normal duo and the other, drummer John Marshall plus bass guitarist Chris Lawrence, tended to clash. But, elsewhere, there was little hint that rehearsal time had been limited, and the score was played with professional aplomb.

Unlike certain earlier suites by this composer, no use was made of themes by other writers and, in using original material only, Westbrook seemed more in control of the directional reins. What he has written in ‘Metropolis’ is an excellent frame for the men in the band. Although its score is never musically easy, it is never esoteric and makes no attempt to intimidate the laity. It functions as an expedient for passing on his inspiration for collective use and he is fortunate in having men able to expand his superstructure into an emotional whole.

Westbrook does not wait on inspiration, however, and has worked hard on this piece. He uses in multi-voiced plasticity the entire range of sounds available to him. His problem, both aesthetically and acoustically, is how to deal with discords, over and above those required to spice his free collective passages. He resolves the problem bya attenuating their value with the contrast of a very basic and heavy bass guitar riff, dividing the listenenrs ear into two compartments. Their attention is thus split between the flowing and linear interaction of his soloists and the socking rock of the r&b beat.

Despite the overall excellenece of the suite, I had two slight reservations. My main complaint was the over-emphasis of the amplified guitar figures that occasionally competed with the horn soloists – never more noticeably than during the first half of John Surman’s second long solo. My second objection concerned the instances when Westbrook scored his trombones with a tuba. The effect was to give the section a Kentonian sound that was not only stiff but uncharacteristic in the flexible atmosphere of the Concert Band.

Little criticism can be levelled at the band’s soloists although, despite the overall standard, two efforts really stood out. The first, by Kenny Wheeler, was a trumpet solo of real invention, never relying on the safe phrase, and burnished with the sparkling tonal quality that always distinguishes his work. The second was a prodigious exercise on trombone by Paul Rutherford, demonstrating not only his melodic ingenuity but also his accuracy in all ranges of the instrument. With two blistering solos by Malcolm Griffiths, two powerful John Surman workouts, beautiful flugel solos from both Henry Lowther and Harold Beckett and a muscular contribution from Alan Skidmore, there were further reasons why ‘Metropolis’ should succeed.

In providing the very basic pulse of the bass guitar and the rhythmic background of riffs, Westbrook has made his music accessible to all. I cannot help wondering whether the audience’s reception would have been as ecstatic had the often dense contrapuntal passages been played against an equally broken background. We will never know the answer but, in the final analysis, I would have preferred to have had the rock beat played down a little. This was an outstanding jazz work with no need for listening aids and Westbrook is to be congratulated for producing music that inspires his sidemen to add solos completely in his own idiom. No jazz writer can be asked to do more.”

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