Book reviews

Roger Farbey – ‘Elastic Dream: The music of Ian Carr, An annotated discography’

Roger FarbeyElastic Dream: The music of Ian Carr. An annotated discography

(Jazz In Britain – Book/CD review by Mark McKergow)

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Roger Farbey’s newly-revised third edition of his Ian Carr omni-source sees an admirably clear and not uncritical listing of the late trumpeter, composer and author’s work. The accompanying CD gives a good insight into Carr’s work, especially in his early and later phases.

Perhaps some younger readers of these pages will need reminding that Ian Carr (1933-2009) was a central figure in the development of British jazz. Emerging in the North East in the early 1960s, Carr paired up with tenorist Don Rendell in a lauded and latterly much vinyl collected quintet playing mainly original numbers, before equipping himself with wah-wah pedals and forming the classic  jazz-rock band Nucleus in 1969. The next two decades saw a series of album releases and festival shows, with Carr also performing with composer Neil Ardley’s large groups and the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble.

Carr was also a fine author; his book Miles Davis: A Critical Biography (1982, revised 1999 as The Definitive Biography) stands as one of the seminal texts. He also wrote an acclaimed biography of Keith Jarrett in 1992. He was appointed associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London in 1987 and taught there and elsewhere for many years. Affected by Alzheimer’s disease, he stopped performing publicly in the 1990s, although a stream of reissues and archival recording has continued to appear. 

It is impossible to think of a better guide to Carr’s musical output than Roger Farbey’s latest discography. With formatting brought into line with Jazz Journal etc, the book is in four main parts, covering Carr’s career in three phases plus a separate section for post-2002 archival releases (of which there are many). Appendices cover Carr’s progression in the Melody Maker Jazz Polls, his written output, books and articles about him, and other media appearances. Most albums have a page or two of commentary, and note is also taken of occasions where Carr was playing as a session musician (particularly if he was lucky enough to get a solo). It all adds up to 200+ pages of a musical life very well lived.

The book is accompanied by a specially produced CD, a delightful mix of Carr’s work from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. No Nucleus here (that’s very widely available anyway – dedicated fans should head for the 13-CD Nucleus Live At The BBC set). We start with Carr and the Northern Dance Orchestra in an early Neil Ardley arrangement of Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone (very well recorded, with Carr’s bandmate Gary Cox putting in a cracking tenor solo). Three tracks from various bands featuring Don Rendell and Michael Garrick follow, the lightning-fast Hot Rod from 1965 being the pick. Roger Farbey bemoans the fact that so many of the musicians mentioned in the book are no longer with us; it’s very happy to note that bassist Dave Green is a welcome exception. Green is not only still working after nearly 60 years, he also features prominently on the new Scott Hamilton Pizza Express Live In London album released a few days ago.

The CD moves into the 1970s with Torso, a Carr composition for his intriguing Double Quintet, along with a pair of large group performances including the opening track to Ardley’s Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows performed live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (with another great Carr solo). We close with two performances from 1991; the take on Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight is very special, particularly in the light of Carr’s lifelong passion not to play standards. Most of the music featured has been released by the marvellous Jazz In Britain, some of it appearing on CD for the first time.  The performance of For Miles And Miles by Carr’s 1991 Quintet is previously unreleased.

The book and CD add up to a very good £12.99’s worth, a modest sum for what has clearly been a life’s work for the author. The listings are so comprehensive I almost expected this review to pop up in an appendix at the end! Those wishing to discover even more about Ian Carr’s life and music should look no further than Alyn Shipton’s excellent biography, Out Of The Long Dark (Equinox, 2006).

Link: Buy Elastic Dream from Jazz In Britain

Categories: Book reviews, Reviews

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