Karl Jenkins: Penumbra II

Previously unreleased 1971 set with Ray Warleigh, Alan Skidmore and Chris Spedding indicates British jazz was fresher 50 years ago than now

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This is a limited edition compact disc, in a gatefold digipack, of a previously unreleased recording made at a rare 1971 studio performance by a 10-piece group.

There’s surely something perverse in the idea that music made over half a century ago sounds fresher (both on the surface and in the depths) than music made, say, half a dozen years ago, but once again a Jazz In Britain exercise in audio archaeology makes the point with force. This leaves the jazz hack with the vexing but happy business of trying to account for precisely why this is.

In this case the combination of composer and an assembly of stellar musicians makes a significantly positive difference. But also, Chris Spedding’s almost hybrid jazz/rock guitar work lends proceedings a distinctive air, encapsulating an era in which such a crossover was pregnant with possibilities, other than that of increasingly vacuous virtuosity.

In a programme lasting less than half an hour the 19 minutes that make up the Second Movement concentrate the mind, just as they offer Ray Warleigh the opportunity to stretch out: he does so to the extent that he shows a facet of his playing rarely if ever caught on record.

Throughout, John Marshall displays his customary combination of power and restraint, their deployment dictated by the needs of the music, as opposed to anything smacking of ego or indulgence. This is exemplified by his work behind Brian Smith’s solo on the same movement.

Is there something in the idea that we often don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone? Sometimes it feels as though there’s a wealth of archive releases out there that powerfully make the point, and this album can undoubtedly be added to the roster.

Discography
First Movement; Second Movement; Third Movement (29.35)
Ian Carr (flh); Brian Smith (ss); Ray Warleigh (as); Alan Skidmore (ts); Karl Jenkins (p); Dave MacRae (p, elp); Chris Spedding (g); Roy Babbington (b, elb); John Marshall (d); Frank Ricotti (pc). London, August 1971.
Jazz In Britain JIB-41-S-CD