JJ 05/69: Colosseum at Wood Green Jazz Club

First published in Jazz Journal, May 1969

Colosseum at an early rehearsal

At least one of the progressive pop groups should be of interest to readers of this magazine. In the course of one session at Wood Green Jazz Club last month, I heard enough of Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum to convince me that there is much to recommend in their music.

It would be a mistake to apply straight jazz standards to them, yet it is just this tradition that provides their spark. Melodically they are limited. Both James Litherland (guitar) and Dave Greenslade (organ) solo without invention and with little melodic ingenuity.

It is left to Dick Heckstall-Smith to produce solos of shape and imagination. He has now become quite proficient in the simultaneous use of tenor and soprano and, on the evening in question, took several good tenor spots. His pitching on soprano was extremely suspect but he brought to the group a solo style drawing heavily from his jazz experience without losing sight of their collective aims.

Hiseman is undoubtedly the leader. Something of a musical bully, he edges his men into the areas he requires and, in so doing, turns his group into a pop version of the Jazz Messengers.

The real point with this combo, however, is that they are exciting. They do not provide the subtle thrill of brilliant extempore delivery but instead the sheer physical excitement of conscious accelerandos, tension building retards and startling rhythmic densities. Their limitations in the jazz sense seemed of little importance and with Hiseman often drumming quite masterfully, it became obvious that they were playing as much to please themselves as they were to please the large audience.

In certain quarters there has recently been a tendency to over-intellectualise pop. I see no reason to join the argument and think it absurd to compare the clever, and often original, use of electronic effects with genuine musical creation. I prefer to accept pop on its own terms and if, as with the Colosseum, it is pop with a strong jazz flavour, the jazz bigot in me is delighted.
Barry McRae