Feature/Interview

52 Jazz Tracks for 2021 (7. ‘Mama Chicago (1)’ – Mike Westbrook, 1979)

The seventh of Jon Turney’s weekly selection (introduced HERE), music haunted by the ghost of an unseen theatre production.

Mike Westbrook Mama Chicago

Mike Westbrook has such an extraordinary back catalogue it’s easy to overlook even some choicer items from the era when recordings came and went more rapidly. Like this one, a double album of pieces written for a musical about Chicago in the days of Al Capone that was never staged.

There is an overture just before, but to my mind this is the real overture. Several themes get their first airing. The small-band-with-a-big-band’s sound slips in and out of older styles: note the burst of polyphony that follows the line “turn the clock back to 1929”. And we hear from both vocalists: Kate Westbrook, at her theatrical best; and Phil Minton, who never fails to do exactly the right thing.

Westbrook’s arranging skill makes it hard to believe this is only a seven-piece, as they all switch instruments and riff away with gusto. Minton, and the soloists – Chris Hunter to the fore – get wilder as the show develops, and the last numbers feature some of his finest free vocalising. Here he’s caressing the words, but still mesmerising – raised hairs on the back of the neck stuff. A way in to a suite of songs that deserved its original, handsome double-album packaging. They hang together remarkably well as a whole, and that quality endures.

LINKS: Listen on Spotify

Read Jon’s post in full on Bristol Jazz Log

Read Jon’s introduction to the ’52 tracks’ series

Week Six: Martial Solal ‘Round About Midnight’

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