JJ 06/71: Brotherhood at the Phoenix

Fifty years ago, Pete Gamble declared the UK at last had a band to be reckoned with, albeit in many respects an import. First published in Jazz Journal June 1971


If there’s a more exciting band around than the Brotherhood of Breath, then I’ve yet to hear it. Certainly it’s the finest big band this country has had for a very long time, for Chris McGregor has formed a unit that offers some­thing for all generations of jazz followers. While his soloists are confirmed modernists, his writing for the band, although largely dependant on Kwela rhythms and harmonies, still acknowledges the more conventional forms one associates with a big band. They swing like mad, the section work is now ultra smooth, and the rhythm couldn’t be bettered. If comparisons are to be made, I feel sure the Brotherhood could cut the Clarke-Boland, Jones-Lewis and Buddy Rich aggregations any night of the week.

This was the band’s first appearance at the Phoenix, but if the musical quality and the size of the audience is anything to go by, the management will be pleased to have them back!

All the familiar pieces were presented – Mra, The Bride, Andromeda etc – and were strung together by free-blowing passages. Outstanding contributions from nearly every member of the band were somewhat overshadowed for me by Harry Beckett’s solo early in the evening; it was beautifully constructed, inventive and emotion packed, and he can hardly ever have played a better. The audience, however, seemed unimpressed  – sorry Harry, you’re too much of an institution to be recognised for the excellent musician you are.

Also included was some of the material from the film ‘Kangi’s Harvest’, for which Chris has been writing the score. I’d urge all readers to get out and see the film when it’s released – it will be worth it for the music alone. This material is to be used on the band’s next album, when they’re to be augmented by the Afro/Rock group Osibisa and African drummer Tunji Oyelana.

Note to all British jazz followers: at last, we’ve got a great band resident in this country.