Trevor Tomkins’ Sextant: For Future Reference

Previously unreleased music from the late British drummer, effectively his leader debut, features Jimmy Hastings, John Horler and Phil Lee


Trevor Tomkins was both a master of the modern jazz craft and such an unassuming presence in bands ranging from the Rendell-Carr Quintet to Gilgamesh that it might be true to say he was taken for granted; he never let an audience down, but also never got the plaudits he deserved.

This might well have been how he wanted it, for this previously unreleased album, now issued by the ever enterprising Jazz In Britain label, is full of deeply satisfying music that’s entirely free of ego and of the cutting contests that made more for spectacle than lasting music, a point made only more pertinent by the presence of just the one drum solo.

Of the 15 compositions across two discs, only three come from outside of the British jazz canon, and of these Cedar Walton’s Ugetsu offers the best example of how this was a band able to cast what many might see as a staple of hard bop in a different light. Jimmy Hastings’ soprano sax statement of the theme makes the point, as does Chris Pyne’s trombone solo.

Phil Lee, a musician whose case as guitarist was most persuasively made on Never Never Land from Henry Lowther’s Quarternity (Jazz In Britain JIB-36-S-CD), has his case as a composer made by Early Spring, where again the collective absence of ego makes for deeply satisfying music. On flute Hastings is a model of melodic eloquence, and the same goes for Lee the guitarist.

John Horler’s Three Four Piece was, I think, recorded by a Pete King quartet, and the rendering here stands up well in comparison, not least because it’s a model example of what a great small-group drummer Tomkins was, as he covers every base and is alert to every nuance. Also noteworthy is the composer’s work behind Lee’s solo, which might for some be evocative of the Bill Evans / Jim Hall duo.

Lee’s Your Dancing Toes is emblematic of the compositional range on offer here, not least because it affords the group an opportunity to shift dynamic emphasis, something it accomplishes with aplomb thanks in no small part to the Tomkins way with percussive light and shade, which is nicely emphasised by that drum solo on the title track.

The music comes on a limited-edition double compact disc in a gatefold digipack. Tomkins never released an album, so this is, in effect, his leader debut, as well as his memorial. It includes a 32-page booklet with an essay written by Simon Spillett and many previously unseen photographs from Trevor’s archive.

CD1: Chapter One; GRS; Celeste; Ugetsu; ’Smatter; Early Spring; Your Eyes Are Love; The Right Moment (54.58)
CD2: Zemlja; Summer Night; Three Four Peace; Evansong; Your Dancing Toes; For Future Reference; Ballad No.1 (49.07)
Chris Pyne (tb, vtb); Jimmy Hastings (ss, ts, f, bf); John Horler (p, elp); Phil Lee (elg, 12-string g); Paul Bridge (b); Tomkins (d). Unknown locations, May 1980 – May 1983 inclusive.
Jazz In Britain JIB-37-S-CD