Album reviews

‘Journeys In Modern Jazz: Britain’ (1965-1972, Decca)

Journeys In Modern Jazz: Britain
(Decca 5393586. Album review by Denny Ilett)

The great trumpeter and educator Clark Terry used a phrase that became somewhat of a mantra for budding jazz musicians; it read “Imitate, assimilate, innovate”.

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Each and every musician featured in this fascinating new compilation, until the early 1960s, when US artists finally started to regularly tour here, had to make do with their exposure to jazz coming almost exclusively from whichever records made their way across the Atlantic. A lucky few were employed on the transatlantic cruise ships where they’d endure the drudgery of playing ‘stock’ charts in the hope they might, on their night off, hear the likes of Charlie Parker for a fleeting moment at one of New York’s famous jazz clubs. Apart from that, they had just each other to bounce ideas off and, with the bulk of attention, jazz wise, on the ‘trad’ scene, these young modernists, for a while, became a tight-knit band of souls congregating in whichever back room of a pub a friendly landlord might allow them to experiment in.

The fact that, under these circumstances, they managed to ‘imitate, assimilate, innovate’ so quickly and effectively is both remarkable and clearly evident throughout all fourteen tracks collated here by Decca.

The period covered, 1965-1972, sees the ‘trad boom’ having already happened, the initial foray into modern territory bearing fruit and the ’60s ‘blues boom’ in full swing. It sees regular visits to Britain of the American superstars and, most importantly, it sees British jazz finally finding and asserting its own identity and personality.

Listening through the set one is struck by the sheer energy and creativity generated by this cast of legends. John Dankworth, Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook, Stan Tracey, Ian Carr, Alan Skidmore, Dick Morrissey, Mike Gibbs, Harry Beckett and others are all present, leading small and large ensembles through music that is vibrant, eclectic and anything but the ‘poor cousin’ of the American jazz scene.

A 20,000 word essay by Tony Higgins accompanying the set is informative, thorough and almost as enjoyable, and vital, as the music itself. Even a glance through the sidemen, and women, is dizzying for the sheer array of jazz talent on offer. John McLaughlin, Henry Lowther, Tony Coe, Barbara Thompson, Kenny Wheeler, Derek Watkins, Joe Harriott, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Duncan Lamont; they’re all here and so many more!

Arguably, it’s on the large ensemble tracks that we hear the the real rewards of British modern jazz’s labour. It’s hard to think of many American big bands that were being quite this daring and creative in the mid to late ’60s with the possible exception of Don Ellis. The extended groups led here by the likes of Dankworth, Tracey, Westbrook and Gibbs alongside The New Jazz Orchestra and another co-led by John Warren and John Surman sound as fresh, and modern, today as they would have sounded then.

Of course one can hear the influence of Miles, Coltrane, Rollins and Hubbard among the soloists but there’s something else going on that was entirely new and quintessentially British; an almost cinematic quality in some of the writing and the presence of contemporary classical, rock and folk elements all mixed, seamlessly, with the post-bop and avant-garde sounds emanating from the States.

Originally recorded by a selection of iconic labels such as Deram, Argo, EMI, Columbia, Fontana, Mercury and Philips; Decca have done a long overdue favour to fans of British jazz by releasing this sumptuous package of rare cuts. Many LP copies from this period fetch astronomical sums on the collectors market and many have been hard, or impossible, to find on CD. Their collectibility may be due to their scarcity but, now these choice tracks have been reissued and superbly remastered, this hugely important generation of legendary British jazz artists can now be re-confirmed as the maverick pioneers they truly are.


1 Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra | Don The Dreamer
2 Don Rendell Quintet | A Matter Of Time
3 Collin Bates Trio | Brew
4 John Surman, John Warren | With Terry’s Help
5 Michael Garrick Sextet | Second Coming
6 Mike Westbrook Concert Band | Waltz (for Joanna)
7 Stan Tracey And His Big Band | Matinee Days
8 Harry Beckett | Third Road

CD 2:
1 Neil Ardley, Ian Carr, Don Rendell | Greek Variations: VI Kriti [edit]
2 The New Jazz Orchestra | Angle
3 Alan Skidmore Quintet | Old San Juan
4 Dick Morrissey Quartet | Storm Warning
5 Mike Taylor Quartet | To Segovia
6 Michael Gibbs | Some Echoes, Some Shadows

Release date: 16 July 2021

LINK: Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain at the Decca Records website

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