JJ 01/70: Mike Westbrook’s Earthrise, in concert

Mike Westbrook at the Mermaid Theatre in November 1969, reviewed by Barry McRae. First published in Jazz Journal January 1970


Mike Westbrook’s latest work, ‘Earthrise’, was commissioned by Sir Bernard Miles and prem­iered at the Mermaid Theatre in November. The light show that accompanied it added nothing as far as I was concerned and the constant flashes beamed into the audiences eyes were a distinct annoyance. Westbrook’s music does not need stimulants and is emotionally communicative without the message spelt out in pictures.

As with earlier pieces, ‘Earthrise’ juxtaposed familiar themes like Old Devil Moon and Blue Moon with original material by Westbrook. Regrettably established faces like John Surman, Malcolm Griffiths, Alan Jackson and Alan Skidmore were missing and there is little doubt that the performance suffered accordingly. Mike Osborne played very well, Paul Rutherford had one extremely vocalized solo using a tambourine as a mute and George Khan produced some highly expressive sounds with the aid of a varitone attachment. Norma Winstone sang well and, in addition to one outstanding duet with Osborne, was always effectively integrated into the ensemble.

The best solo voice of the evening, however, was Barry Guy’s. His piz­zicato excursion in the early part of the work was always full of fire, his line strong and his melodic variations unpredictable. The remainder of the solos were undistinguished and the whole ensemble was dragged by two drummers who shared an ability to handle dynamics but who gave little lift to the band.

Individual contributions by Mark Griffiths (bas­soon), George Smith (tuba) and Ray Russell (gtr) were particularly dull and one finally felt that much of Westbrook’s good work was dis­sipated through lack of support. He writes brilliantly for soloists but this current unit had too many second league players. It would be interesting to hear the same composition in the hands of his normal line-up and it is to be hoped that they are available if he is offered the recording opportunity it deserves.
Barry McRae