Mike Westbrook: London Bridge – Live In Zürich 1990

Westbrook's music remains light-footed under the weight of an 11-piece jazz band, a sinfonietta and the words of Goethe, Sassoon and others


Mike Westbrook’s music is hardly unique in not receiving the acclaim it deserves, and this double CD is a case in point. Given the music’s vintage it reminds us how much “the edge” has been sanded off “jazz” and the countless offshoots that have laid claim to the term in the three decades since.

Westbrook is notable for the sources he’s drawn upon from outside the jazz field – William Blake, Rossini and some of the more rarefied strands of musical theatre, for example – and even in this significantly instrumental set he draws upon texts by Goethe, Sassoon and others to colour a body of music that’s far from monochrome in the instrumental sense.

Indeed the deftness with which the forces of Westbrook’s 11-piece band and the Docklands Sinfonietta under Rupert Bond’s baton are deployed is a model of how to create light and space in an environment which on the surface seems musically congested.

Outside of the units, soloists such as guitarist Brian Godding (notably on London Bridge itself), Chris Biscoe (on baritone on the Nahe Des Geliebten part of Berlin Wall and alto on the Traurig Aber Falsch part of the same title) and Pete Whyman (on clarinet on Vienna: Viennese Waltz) bring innate, almost Ellingtonian understanding to the table in a manner that reminds us of the potency of longstanding musical associations.

Kate Westbrook’s voice brings shades of Lotte Lenya and Ute Lemper to proceedings, notably on the part of Berlin Wall referenced above. This adds further spice to the mix and emphasises the breadth and depth of ground covered.

CD1: London Bridge: London Bridge Is Broken Down; Wenceslas Square: Wenceslas Square; Berlin Wall: Nahe Des Geliebten, Traurig Aber Falsch (67.04)
CD2: Berlin Wall: Ein Vogel; Vienna: Viennese Waltz, Fur Sie; Picardie: Blighters, Les Morts, Picardie, Une Fenetre, Aucassin Et Nicolette (79.22)
Graham Russell (t); Paul Nieman (tb, elec); Pete Whyman (ss, as, cl); Alan Wakeman (ts, ss); Chris Biscoe (bar, as, acl); Andy Grappy (tu); Mike Westbrook (p); Brian Godding (g); Tim Harries (b); Peter Fairclough (d); Kate Westbrook (v); Docklands Sinfonietta; Rupert Bond (cond); Alison Kelly (leader). Zurich International Jazz Festival, Switzerland, 1990.
Westbrook Records WR 011