Mike Westbrook – Love and Understanding – Citadel/Room 315 Sweden ’74
(My Only Desire Records. MOD003CD. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
This CD is a live radio recording of Mike Westbrook‘s classic 1975 RCA album Citadel/Room 315. The music was commissioned by Sveriges Radio, and it is the sixteen piece Swedish Radio Jazz Group we hear perform it, together with John Surman on soprano and baritone saxophones and bass clarinet and Westbrook on occasional electric piano. This performance predates the RCA recording which despite be released in the early 2000’s appears no longer available other than through streaming services. The tracks and their order on the record are the same as the latter recording.
Coming late to Westbrook’s music, I can’t compare it to the 1975 release, though my appetite to explore that work has been whetted. The music stands on its own merits, an eclectic mix of writing which signposts some of the themes evident in Westbrook’s later work for big bands. Most apparent is perhaps the debt to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in the arrangements – Ellingtonian flourishes adorn several of the pieces. Westbrook also seems to nod in the direction of Gil Evans in some of his orchestration.
The music moves from pensive, such as Bengt Hallberg‘s gentle piano solo which opens Pastorale and Bertil Lövegren‘s trumpet solo which follows it, through to high octane big band blowing in pieces such as Bebop De Rigeur.
The View From The Drawbridge is an involving composition, which builds tension over its seven minutes from its quiet piano opening through a crescendo of horns back to quiet.
The title track, Love And Understanding, is, in contrast, a rather funky piece of big band blast: it is hard to sit still to this music, it demands you get up and dance. Daniel Spicer’s excellent liner notes explain how Westbrook wrote the piece, named by Kate Westbrook (who doesn’t appear on the record, which is dedicated to her). It is followed by Tender Love, a gentle ballad with a sumptuous soprano solo from Surman.
Love And Understanding – Citadel/Room 315 Sweden ’74 captures a snapshot of a younger Westbrook, coupled with an exuberant big band. An exciting record, it marks an early foray into big band composing and arranging, and indicates the direction he would follow in later years.