REVIEW: Peter Lemer Quintet Son Of Local Colour at Pizza Express

Peter Lemer (left) with John Surman, Alan Skidmore and Jon Hiseman
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Peter Lemer Quintet Son Of Local Colour
(Pizza Express, 20 February 2018; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

“We take from one another and give, willingly, unwillingly, knowingly, unknowingly.” Thus did the ultra-versatile jazz pianist, Peter Lemer, articulate the psychology of musicianly interplay in the sleeve note to his quintet’s album, Local Colour. Recorded in 1966 for New York’s ground-breaking ESP label and produced by the legendary Eddie Kramer, who was to become a core element in Hendrix’s creative team, this was the only album put out in Lemer’s own name, despite a high-flying career at the heart of the British progressive jazz-rock scene and as sideman with the likes of Annette Peacock, Ginger Baker and Mike Oldfield. His earliest work was in left-field territory with the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and he studied with piano luminaries, Paul Bley and Jackie Byard.

At Pizza Express he reconvened the original members of that stellar fivesome, John Surman (baritone and soprano saxes), Jon Hiseman (drums), Tony Reeves (bass) with the consummate tenor of Alan Skidmore, Surman’s old sidekick from SOS, depping for the indisposed George (Nisar Ahmad) Khan.

The quintet lasted around five months including a six-week Ronnie Scott’s residency, before other demands led to its dispersal, yet they proved that they have lost none of the dynamic edge displayed so challengingly on the ’66 LP, which, if anything, has been honed and intensified over the intervening 52 years.

Selections from the album included, as a thank you to Lemer’s mentors at the time, Carla Bley’s hyperactive Inctus, and Lemer’s compositions, Flowville with its softly meditative preamble, In the Out, with the harmonised saxes briefly a dead-ringer for Roland Kirk, and Carmen, a springboard for melodic extrapolation. In this powerful performance, the material sounded vital, fresh and unequivocally current, optimised by a crisp sound mix that propelled to the fore the subtleties and dynamics of each musician’s contribution, auguring well for the live recording that was taking place.

John Surman on soprano sax in Peter Lemer’s quintet at Pizza Express
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Reading from demanding scores, Surman and Skidmore welded an inspired, rock-solid brass section alongside the nuanced bass dialogues from Reeves, Hiseman’s structurally intense percussion and Lemer’s keyboard effervescence.

The first set opened with improvisation. “I dreamt about an octopus last night, so that’s where we are going to start!” echoing the sleeve note that “The written leads were the maps into the unexplored, the direction being towards the open, out …” As the textures were built up there was an underlying modulation with the feel of an ECM sound world. Judicious, infectious soloing, waves of sonics through the saxes, concentrated, serial piano repetitions and a break out in to a rocking groove mapped out the Local Colour field.

With references to non-verbal communication and to proto-linguistics, Lemer’s notion was that “we’re tapping the veins of your brains.” Spells of tough, tight synchronisation, expressive solos from Surman and Skidmore deep in to their power station delivery, Reeves’ sensitively syncopated bass lines and discreet pummelling by Hiseman complemented Lemer’s brightly illuminated piano flights.

Lemer’s homage to Dick Heckstall-Smith, Big Dick, took its lead from Lemer’s nine note figure, and with the quintet motoring at full throttle, Surman served up a stand-out soprano solo on Coltrane’s Impressions. The perfectionist in Lemer insisted on four false starts at Blues for Something Funny before he deemed the pace just right for their recording.

With such a quality performance all round the question is – where has Peter Lemer been hiding all these years? He was keen that this outfit gets further airings and is looking for offers!

We have also published Paul Wood’s photos of this gig HERE

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Glad to hear such a rare occasion as this was recorded. Is the label upon which it will appear, or its approximate release date, yet known?

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