CD review

Bukky Leo Quartet ft. Clifford Jarvis – “Evolution”

Bukky Leo Quartet ft. Clifford Jarvis – Evolution
(Drift Recordings. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This storming set sees American drum legend Clifford Jarvis team up with saxophonist Bukky Leo, pianist Jonathan Gee and bassist Pete Kubryk Townsend in 1987. The results, now released for the first time, are a powerful and exuberant reminder of the excitement of the late 80s London scene.

Bukky Leo Quartet ft. Clifford Jarvis EvolutionThis is an album by a tenor saxophonist, but it’s about two drummers. The first drummer is the recently departed Tony Allen, Nigerian music legend, co-founder of the Afrobeat genre and Bukky Leo’s first band leader. Allen saw Leo practising saxophone and engaged him for the Mighty Irokos in Lagos. Both went on to perform with Fela Kuti, before then moving to London in the mid 1980s, when the city was about to burst forth with acid jazz and much else. Bukky Leo was naturally inspired by his relationship with Allen, who he saw as a father figure, and dedicates this album to him. The album was originally scheduled for release just before Tony Allen’s death on 1 May 2020.

The second drummer, and the one we hear on the disk, is Clifford Jarvis. Graduating from Berklee College of Music in the 1950s, Jarvis went on to play with all manner of stars through the 1960s, notably Freddie Hubbard and Jackie McLean on Blue Note sessions, before joining Sun Ra’s Arkestra for a decade on the road. By all accounts Sun Ra was very keen on Jarvis’ playing, berating others for not playing with Jarvis’ spark.  Jarvis went on to perform with Pharaoh Sanders and Archie Shepp in the 1970s, his all-out style matching his explosive temper. In a surprise move, Jarvis came to London in the mid-1980s and stayed, starting a band called Prophets of Jazz and working with Courtney Pine and Chris McGregor amongst others while also teaching in East London. His career dwindled to nothing beyond local performances and he died in 1999.

Evolution was recorded in 1987 following a series of gigs, when Bukky Leo was moved to record the band for future release. The release has only now come, and shows an exciting band of three young musicians and one comparative veteran (Jarvis) playing their hearts out on seven Leo originals. Not only is this music being aired now for the first time, but it is (apparently) the only album appearance by Jarvis in the whole of his London decade-and-a-half. Both of those are good reasons to pay attention, listen and enjoy.

The opening A Waltz For Joe immediately seizes the attention with Leo’s Joe Henderson-influenced tenor immediately to the fore. Clifford Jarvis sizzles and drives the lilting tune with continuously shifting beats and flourishes, a tremendous presence but without dominating proceedings. Jonathan Gee takes an opening piano solo with typical aplomb, his work fitting very well with the active accompaniments, then Leo comes forward for a typically joyous solo with exciting runs and plenty of rippling ghosted notes. Pete Kubryk Townsend keeps his double bass ostinato going to underpin Jarvis’ rolling drum solo.

The seven tracks show great variety of pace and feel. Mr CP (Conceptual Personality) nods to John Coltrane’s perennial Mr PC in style, as well as finding space for a fine bass solo from Townsend. Trouble In Mind starts with a slow swagger before building in intensity, while Dubai has a more Latin feel accentuated by Jarvis’ rapid-fire percussion work. Jarvis On Heat/The Edge has a catchy head which builds into a drum feature, while the closing Bata (Yoruba Shoes) is an unexpectedly tender ballad which shows off Bukky Leo’s delicious tone to great effect. All these tunes serve their purpose of setting up the mood and solos, with the blowing element as the central attraction.

This whole collection is utterly enjoyable, headlong music, straightforward in conception and wonderfully performed in a true collective improvised style. The recording is not, of course, of pristine digital quality but the spirit of the music more than compensates.

And the story is not yet over… apparently Bukky Leo embarked on recording Evolution 2 after Jarvis’ death in 1999 with a group including Seb Rochford, Quentin Collins, Ben Hazleton and Trevor Edwards along with Jonathan Gee – we can hope to hear that session in 2021.

LINK: Preview the music and buy the album 

2 replies »

  1. Clifford did actually do a few recordings in his time in London eg guesting on Cleveland Watkiss’ album Green Chimneys and Kevin Haynes’ Grupo Elegua Tomorrow’s Path. He recorded outside England in that period – with Archie Shepp in Italy (Little Red Moon), a live album with Archie Shepp and Chet Baker, also in France with Michel Marre. There may be several more recordings.

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