Chris Biscoe: Music Is – Plays Mike Westbrook

The reedman rearranges his boss's tunes in simpler form for a quintet including guitarist Mike Outram and pianist Kate Williams


Multi-reedist Chris Biscoe has been a prominent member of Mike Westbrook’s ensembles for 43 years so he’s well versed with the work. He’s selected seven pieces from six of Westbrook’s recordings and rearranged them for his own quintet. Biscoe’s carried out similar exercises before with the music of Eric Dolphy (Gone In The Air) and Charles Mingus (Profiles Of Mingus) – two excellent CDs released in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

The title track and alternate version that open and close the current album are recastings of Music Is from Westbrook’s 1985 double LP On Duke’s Birthday. Mama Chicago stems from the eponymous Westbrook album released in 1979 as does Biscoe’s own composition, Goin’ To Chicago. Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado is from L’Ascenseur / The Lift of 2002 and View From The Drawbridge comes from Westbrook’s Citadel / Room 315, released in 1975. July ’79 is from The Cortège of 1982 while Wasteground and Weeds is from the 2010 album Allsorts. (The CD’s liner notes misattribute its origin to Kate Westbrook’s LP Goodbye, Peter Lorre.) The latter piece was prompted by weekend walks around the Westbrooks’ London home in Bow before the development of Canary Wharf. Biscoe delivers his arrangement of the song on solo baritone.

Another Biscoe-only track is Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado, where he multitracks alto sax and alto clarinet with recordings of street sounds and a singing robin. On the other six tracks, Biscoe is accompanied in varying permutations by Mike Outram (g), Kate Williams (p), Dave Whitford (b) and Jon Scott (d). Their performance is top notch – I’ve seen them play many times before in different setups and they never fail to delight.

Whereas Westbrook’s work can be intricate and involved, Biscoe has purposefully kept his rearrangements sleek and simple. Much of the music was improvised on the day of recording by this talented quintet and the results are superb – it’s an exhilarating album. The Westbrooks themselves applaud the outcome and express their gratitude to Chris Biscoe for making their songs his own.

Music Is; Mama Chicago; Goin’ To Chicago; On Duke’s Birthday; Aggro-Vancouver-Desperado; View From The Drawbridge; July ’79; Wasteground And Weeds; Music Is (47.56)
Biscoe (as, ss, bar, acl); Mike Outram (g); Kate Williams (p); Dave Whitford (b); Jon Scott (d). London, 4 September & 13 December 2021, 19 February 2022.
Trio Records 607