CD REVIEW: Mark Springer – circa Rip Rig & Panic

Mark Springer – circa Rip Rig & Panic
(Exit – Review by Peter Slavid)

I have to start this review by saying that this CD was not at all what I was expecting when I started listening.

In July 1983 at the much-missed Bracknell Jazz Festival, the headline act on Friday was a strange band called Rip Rig and Panic (named after the Roland Kirk album). They appeared that night with trumpeter Don Cherry (as well as his daughter Neneh) and that went some way to giving them jazz respectability. In truth the band was something weird and wonderful from well outside the conventional jazz world, and definitely upset many jazz fans with their experimental sounds and influences from punk, classical, reggae and pop.

I have a vivid memory of that performance which remains on my “best ever” list, and I also remember being upset when I learned shortly afterwards that the band had broken up after only three years. At the core of the band was Sean Oliver (bass), Mark Springer (piano, sax, vocals), Gareth Sager (guitar, sax, keyboards, vocals) and Bruce Smith (drums, percussion) with Smith’s partner Neneh Cherry, trumpeter Dave DeFries, saxophonist Flash and others joining from time to time.

This new album, described as their fourth, is made up of unreleased material from the RRAP-era with the emphasis on the era. It’s been curated by Mark Springer and features his compositions from that period. Since 1983 Springer has continued composing in several different styles, including opera and string quartets.

Ignoring all that history, what can we make of this album. Is it just a bit of nostalgia or does it stand up to 2017 inspection? What becomes fairly clear, notwithstanding the title, is that this is really a Mark Springer piano album, with only occasional interventions from the rest of the band. The confusion is compounded because the Press Release describes it as being from Springer/RRAP, whereas the CD, slightly more accurately, says Springer featuring Sean Oliver, Flash and Nico.

To be honest there’s not much of RRAP here. There’s no hint of the old punk mentality and no trace at all of the afro-beat tunes. There are just a couple of tracks with some free improv and one strange track from Velvet Underground singer Nico (is there any other type?). As a pianist Springer is heavily influenced by classical music, and can descend into cinematic, symphonic romantic ballads too such as Sakura. On Threevolution he does let rip with some real improvisation. These piano interludes were always a part of the RR&P programme, but they were interjections in a very different context.

So I think that fans of RRAP will be disappointed with this CD, which should really be called “Mark Springer circa 1983”. Fans of Springer’s more recent compositions will probably enjoy hearing the links back to his origins.

The ethos of RRAP as described back in 1983 was “all about enjoying yourself and not taking the whole thing too damn seriously” this CD seems to take the opposite approach with some tracks included for almost academic reasons. Springer’s sleeve notes are extensive with a lot of detail about his composing and recording process and clearly carry strong emotional links back to that era. Unfortunately there are too few musical links for my taste.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a radio programme of European jazz at www.mixcloud.com/ukjazz

Categories: miscellaneous

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