JJ 10/70: Nucleus at the Notre Dame Hall

Fifty years ago, Ron Brown defended Ian Carr and Miles Davis against the accusation that they ran rock ’n’ roll bands. First published in Jazz Journal October 1970

Nucleus at Newport Jazz Festival 1970. L-R: John Marshall, Bryan Smith, Jeff Clyne, Ian Carr, Chris Spedding, Karl Jenkins. Photo © George Gilmore

The Jazz Centre Society’s ‘Winter Ceres’ of concerts got off to a great start on September 12th, when the following line-up presented an exhilarating evening of electric jazz: Ian Carr (tpt/fgl-h), Brian Smith (ten/sop), Karl Jenkins (oboe/el-pno), Chris Spedding, (el-gtr), Jeff Clyne (bs/bs-gtr), John Marshall (dm).

Those who dismiss Nucleus (and the current Miles Davis band for that matter) as rock ’n’ rollers are way off the beam; it’s the pounding rhythm that bugs them of course, but no pure rock bassist has ever played with the technical brilliance or melodic ingenuity of Jeff Clyne or Jack Bruce and no rock drummer could match the complexity of the magnificent Marshall’s fiercely swinging rhythmic patterns.

The only snag was the imperfect balance (always a problem in jazz concerts, even at the Festival Hall); it was very hard to make out Karl Jenkins’ contribution on piano – however, when they did emerge, they were beautiful; Karl seems to be too modest to solo on this instrument, but his work as a backing musician is all that could be wished for. His consistently excellent work on oboe was a prominent feature of the proceedings too, and a highlight of the first half was a performance of his Lullaby For A Lonely Child, even if it was nowhere near as lyrical as the version on Graham Collier’s ‘Down Another Road’ album.

Chris Spedding, for most of the time impressively effective in a supporting role, played a pop-orientated solo which completely lacked the tension of the other front-line players’ contributions; his improvisation must have fallen very unexcitingly on ears attuned to jazz.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Ian Carr’s Solar Plexus, commissioned by the Arts Council; the basic line-up was strengthened by Kenny Wheeler (tpt/fgl-h), Tony Roberts (ten/bs-clt), Jack Bruce (bs-gtr), Tony Levin (dm), and Keith Winter (VCS3 electronic synthesiser). That synthesiser’s going to give rise to plenty of charges of musical impurity I suppose, but as Ian Carr pointed out in a recent radio interview, musicians have always made use of whatever was available since a caveman first blew on a reed, and this is complete justification, if justification were needed.

On a first hearing Solar Plexus seems straightforward in construction; slow passages, with ballad-like statements from the soloists floating in a sea of organ-like comments from the synthesiser, alternate with punchy up-tempo sections relying heavily on the blues and the good old big-band bash tradition. The ensemble horns made a wonderfully meaty sound, and if joyous swinging like this is unsubtle, then so were Hamp’s Boogie-Woogie, Rockin’ In Rhythm and One O’Clock Jump! More power to all of ’em.