JJ 09/70: Westy At The Phoenix

Fifty years ago, Pete Gamble enjoyed the Westbrook septet but reckoned the big band brought out the best in the leader's writing. First published in Jazz Journal, September 1970

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The Westbrook group which appeared at the Phoenix in July turned out to be a sort of mini big band, drawn from his larger ensemble, with Paul Rutherford, Malcolm Griffiths (tbn), Mike Osborne (alt), George Khan (ten), Harry Miller (bs), Alan Jackson (dm) and Westy on piano.

The evening’s solo honours were undoubtedly stolen by the bone players, Griffith’s rasping crowd-pleasing style contrasting with the smoother technically efficient approach of Rutherford. (Nice to see the former win a recent Downbeat Critics’ Poll award). Ruther­ford’s intro to Morning Song with excellent arco bass from Miller was particularly effective, while Griffiths’ out of character round-toned gem on Mood Indigo was the highlight of the evening.

It is extremely pleasant to hear a band of this type playing the occasional standard, even if only to show the doubting Thomases that contemporary jazz men are quite capable of making an entirely legitimate transition into more melodic forms.

However, even allowing for a couple of prob­lems the band had to face (Westy wrestling with an out-of-tune piano, and George Khan losing a finger key), I felt less than satisfied by the group’s work on the three Westbrook originals they played. The fault was in the ensemble voicings.

Mike’s material is best pre­sented by the big band, where his themes, basically simple, relying on a powerful build-up, seem so much more exciting. The seven-piece was good, but the big band reminds one at times of the old Mingus outfits, which can’t be bad.