October 8, 1973
SOS formed April 1973; first performance October 1973, Brussels. Month-long Italian tour.
July 21, 1970
GIGS: Jazz Summer School, Dartington Hall, Totnes – 14-21 July 1970, Mike Westbrook, John Surman and others give tuition and play.
February 26, 1970
GIGS: John Surman Trio – February 1970, Torrington, Finchley; 100 Club, London. Barry McRae in Jazz Journal 23/4 (April 1970) wrote: “Judging from the size of audiences at Finchley’s Torrington and the 100 Club during his February visit, London fans were as pleased to see John Surman as he was to be home. Musically, he reflected this enthusiasm and the new trio, copiously rehearsed in Belgium, is the best he has ever fronted. Bassist Barre Phillips has worked here with Jimmy Giuffre, John Tchicai and our own S.M.E. and both he and fellow American Stu Martin read the Surman method with style and aggression. At the Torrington the trio provided the entire programme and, after acoustical teething problems had been solved offered the best sound balance of the two venues. Phillips’ inventive bass work is not always delivered with either the power or incisiveness to cut through the busy ensemble and at the 100 Club he was occasionally lost in the welter of sound. He did, however, have much to say, and with Martin fragmenting the rhythmic lower layer, it was the bass that carried the responsibility for providing tempo maintenance and chorus ending demarcation lines. Surman, as always when in form, veered from rhapsodic and orthodox balladeering to ragingly hysterical screaming, without any suggestion of incongruity. In fact, in some of freer moments he produced extempore, thematic snippets that show why he produced such good tunes when he sits down in the cold light of day.
At the 100 Club he shared the bill with Mike Osborne. The altoist is now himself an extremely potent performer and he enjoys the very vibrant support of Harry Miller (bs) and the indefatigable Louis Moholo (dm). In a sense their rhythmic approach is the very antithesis of the Surman Trio….
These two trios rate with any in Europe and quite a large number in America and prove that when a saxophonist is truly inventive, he will find no better platform from which to air his voice than a sympathetic trio.”
January 29, 1970
October 8, 1969
GIGS: Mike Gibbs Orchestra – October 1969, Lancaster University. Surman’s presence is not confirmed; John Surman, Mike Westbrook, etc. – October 1969, Newcastle Festival
October 1, 1969
GIGS: John Surman Spectacular, 100 Club, London, ?October 1969. Reviewed by Barry McRae in Jazz Journal 22/11 (November 1969): “John Surman is regrettably leaving this country to live on the Continent but his last date at the ‘100’ Club will give his followers memories to cherish until his return. Billed as the ‘Surman Spectacular’ the evening proved to be just that. The club was filled to capacity and air became a luxury, obtainable only from the odd few yards near the door. The night began with the leader fronting his usual octet but, as it wore on, the group on stage was in a constant state of flux. Musicians replaced flagging colleagues and others augmented the line up. Surman was superb, not only on baritone but also on his ever improving soprano. Nevertheless it was the artistic high-water mark of the performance.
Critic Brian Blain colourfully describes these as mayhem and in a sense this is very apt. There is obviously no thought for coherence in the orthodox manner. In its place is a textural unity, similar to that found on Ayler’s ‘New York Eye And Ear Control’, Shepp’s ‘One For The Trane’ or Coltrane’s own ‘Ascension’. Just as the New Orleans’ ensemble is a melodic jumble to the uninitiated, this ruffled surface is merely a ripple that covers a strongly flowing musical stream.
As always, solos emerged from the ensemble and Alan Skidmore, Malcolm Griffiths and Mike Osborne stood out. The latter, in particular, was in excellent form. He seems to be concentrating on the freer side of his playing and, in this session, showed no real reluctance to colour his formally cultured tone with the cries and shrieks of today. This does not disguise him, however, and his natural melodic flair is simply directed to more fragmentary form.
Considerable demands were made on the rhythm players and it was the indefatigable Alan Jackson on drums and the ferocious Barry Guy on bass who took the honours. In all, it was a completely entertaining evening, one that convinces me that this music could be reaching a far wider audience if given the chance. The British jazz scene will be the poorer for the (at least temporary) absence of John Surman but the ‘Spectacular’ confirmed the depth of talent that remains.”
August 9, 1969
Mike Westbrook Sextet – 4-7 August 1969, Ronnie Scott’s club upstairs room;
John Surman – 8 August 1969, Bluecoat Hall, Liverpool (Surman, Mike Osborne, Harry Miller, Alan Jackson, John Taylor); 9 August, National Jazz, Blues & Pop Festival, Plumpton Racecourse, Sussex;
Chris McGregor, August 1969, Ronnie Scott’s club upstairs room, reviewed by Barry McRae in Jazz Journal 22/10 (October 1969): “If Ronnie Scott’s excellent new ‘upstairs’ policy persists we are in for some rare treats for, despite a fire delaying the opening, the first week set a frightening standard. The sign on the door read Chris McGregor but the pianist’s regulars Barry Guy, Louis Moholo and Monks Feza were augmented by Westbrook favourites Mike Osborne (alt) and John Surman (sop/bari) and S.M.E. expatriate Evan Parker (ten).
The outcome was some of the most exciting live jazz I hve heard this year. Moholo, who in the past I have sometimes found stiff, was magnificent and it was his unflagging drive that lifted every soloist, to say nothing of the powerful collective ensemble. The soloists, foir their part, responded admirably. Guy and the leader played with real passion, Osborne demonstrated how well he can now play in a free context and Feza produced his own brand of individual and fiery pocket trumpet. Surman was brilliant and, on the night I visited, said he really wanted to play. Both his baritone and soprano work confirmed this attitude and his group playing on the latter horn deserved special mention. His solo talent will be known to most readers but it was noticeable how much attention he paid to inventiveness while in a contrapuntal role.
I have left mention of Parker until last because he strikes me as the most improved jazzman in the country. Perhaps due to his experience with John Stevens, he is a superb group player. In this pick-up unit he seemed to balance the four man front perfectly, always sensing when to drop to his lower register with Ayler-like growls and when to pierce its upper limits with Barbieri-like screams. Not that his style really resembles either but he shares Barbieri’s awareness of timbre and seems to have developed a melodic sense that does hint at the Ayler school.
In commenting on the players individually I might be guilty of suggesting a band of disparate parts. Nothing could be further from the truth for this was a tremendous collective achievement – the ensemble at times crying in full throat with an animation that verged on hysteria. The effect was exhilarating, completely unselfconscious and abandoned in a total manner. There was never musical disintegration and the result underlined the fact that McGregor is a remarkable catalyst who deserves to keep such a group together on a permanent basis.”
July 25, 1969
GIGS: Mike Westbrook – 2 July 1969, Radio One Jazz Workshop; John Surman – 5 July 1969, Bedford College, Inner Circle, Regents Park, London; Mike Westbrook and his Band – 18th – 25th July 1969, Dartington Jazz Summer School, Dartington, Devon (Westbrook, Surman, Osborne, Griffiths, Miller, Jackson)
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.”
April 12, 1969
GIGS: April 12 1969 – Melody Maker Pollwinners Concert, Royal Festival Hall, London – Mike Westbrook Band, Ronnie Scott Band, Georgie Fame, Chris Pyne, Sandy Brown, Joe Harriott, John Surman, Harold McNair, Stan Tracey, Rendell-Carr, Ron Matthewson, Tony Oxley, Cleo Laine, John Dankworth Band, Tubby Hayes.
Barry McRae (Jazz Journal 22/5 May 1969) wrote: “The programme closed with the Mike Westbrook Concert Band. Their section started like the more disastrous Duke Ellington performances, with musicians returning from the bar throughout the first five minutes. Musically they settled quickly and there were excellent solos from Paul Rutherford, Malcolm Griffiths and John Surman (on soprano). Westbrook himself sang I’m Old Fashioned in a hilarious parody of 1940s pop and shocked one of the most unresponsive audiences I have ever seen, even at the RFH. Many walked out and almost all who remained sat in stoney-faced amazement. The band’s continuous performance made its usual use of a sterling march theme, which was gradually broken down into the flowing rhythms of the new jazz and so became the cushion on which Surman’s fiery soprano rested. It represented the high-spot of the evening but there had been disappointingly few others with which to compare it.”