LP Review: The Clarke-Boland Sextet Swing Im Bahnhof

The Clarke-Boland Sextet Swing Im Bahnhof
(Rearward RW 147. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

Rearward and Schema are sister record labels in Milan, with a strong jazz presence in their catalogues. Schema features new acts while Rearward largely deals in reissues of classics. Both have an extensive range of titles on vinyl and both are inspired by the great Italian record producer and entrepreneur Gigi Campi.

Campi was a significant figure in European jazz, having “conceived, founded, financed, managed, and recorded” the magnificent big band co-led by Kenny Clarke and Francy Boland. The Clarke-Boland unit was half composed of the cream of European players, and half of virtuoso American expatriates. Gigi Campi is said to have created it on a bet — that he could assemble one of the finest jazz bands in the world, and do it in a month. The Clarke-Boland Big Band was in the studio two weeks later.

During its existence of a little over a decade (1961-72) the band released 36 albums, only two of which ever came out in America. Most of these records are now very hard to find. But luckily for us, Gigi Campi turned the catalogue over to Rearward Records, and a vigorous re-release program is under way bringing these wonderful titles back into print.

Swing im Bahnhof is a live date — with superlative sound quality —  and it features a sextet nucleus from the big band consisting of Francy Boland on piano, Kenny Clarke on drums, Sahib Shihab on flute, Fats Sadi on vibes and bongos, Jimmy Woode on bass and vocals and Joe Harris on percussion.

The session was recorded in September 1965 at a party hosted by French mime phenomenon Marcel Marceau, a fundraiser to help turn the old station Bahnhof Rolandseck, by the Rhine between Bonn and Remagen, into an arts centre, which survives to this day.

There is a distinct bossa nova flavour to this record, most notably on Insensatez but also present and correct on Bronislau Kapers’ Invitation which kicks off the set with great excitement, the insistent softness of Sahib Shihab’s flute floats over the arrayed forces of the three percussionists, who give a big band flavour to this small group recording. Even Shihab achieves a percussive effect, doubling the drumming, before Francy Boland struts out on the piano in funky, descending figures. Kenny Clarke anchors the beat while Fats Sadi excels himself on bongos.

There is also a strong Latin and Caribbean influence here, with Nat King Cole’s Calypso Blues receiving a hip modern treatment while Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma gets a taut, warm, exemplary interpretation, with Sahib Shihab sounding like Jerome Richardson channelling Eric Dolphy. The flutist shares the solo honours with Francy Boland, the two of them also occasionally playing in indivisible unison. In many ways the album is a showcase for the prodigal talents of Shihab, though bassist Jimmy Woode also acquits himself surprisingly well as a singer, notably on Calypso Blues and Mel Tormé’s Born to be Blue.

 The LP is on sonically splendid 180 gram vinyl, in a heavy duty cardboard cover and includes an inner sleeve with specially translated English liner notes, and is also available on CD.In fact, buyers of the vinyl get a free copy of the CD.

This is a groovy, thrilling record which offers insights into the masterful small group at the hard-beating heart of the Clarke-Boland Big Band, a missing major chapter in European jazz which is being restored at last.

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