Marching Song, Vols 1 & 2

COMPOSERS: Mike Westbrook
LABELS: Deram
ALBUM TITLE: Mike Westbrook Concert Band
PERFORMER: Mike Westbrook (cond) with big band including Kenny Wheeler, Henry Lowther (t), Paul Rutherford, Mike Gibbs (tb), Mike Osborne, Alan Skidmore, John Surman (saxes), Chris Lawrence (b), John Marshall (d)
CATALOGUE NO: 844 853-2 (distr. Polygram)

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An important re-release in an age of important re-releases, Marching Song (1969) is one of the great albums of British jazz. It comes from the vaults of Polygram, which has also put out Westbrook’s Celebration and Release from the same period. These, together with Polygram’s new ReDial label that has given us impossible-to-find albums by Tubby Hayes and the Joe Harriott/John Mayer’s Indo Jazz Fusions, are providing a timely reminder that British jazz could be every bit as absorbing and original as anything from America. Marching Song is an impressive achievement.

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It’s an extended suite depicting a country at war and deals with issues such as pride, patriotism and ultimately destruction and devastation. From the rousing ‘Hooray’ that opens the suite with its Ellingtonian hues, through to episodes of collective improvisation depicting themes such as ‘Conflict’ and ‘Tension’, Westbrook balances the sweep of his imagination with deft orchestrational skills. In later years, he became absorbed by cabaret settings of popular songs and poetry with his wife Kate, but in 1969 Marching Song propelled him to the top of the Downbeat critics poll among fellow winners such as Albert Ayler, Lee Konitz, Roland Kirk and Chick Corea. A heady year indeed for British jazz. Stuart Nicholson