JJ 04/74: Mike Westbrook – Live

Fifty years ago Steve Voce was impressed by Westbrook's new, bluesy direction and George Khan's 'electric saxophone'. First published in Jazz Journal April 1974


Westbrook’s music has moved a very long way from where it was when I last heard it. This is bluesy music based on strong rhythmic figures played with fine conviction by all hands. Gary Boyle is a remarkable guitarist and it is he who largely sets the rock feel, with Travellin’ coming incredibly close to the sound of a Muddy Waters blues session. This is sparse stuff with no pre­tensions, with layer upon layer of atmosphere being built up through the rhythms. Very much electric with Westy doing a Little Walter on harmonica and George Khan using a very effec­tive electronic device which the sleeve calls ‘electric saxophone’.

I find it difficult to reconcile the gap between the big-band freak-out music which I previous­ly associated with Westbrook’s name and the delicate but raw blues music which makes this al­bum so appealing.

Compassion opens out of tempo and stays that way for all of its 13 minutes. It’s a subdued free performance climaxed by a skilful solo from Jackson on alto and another from Potter on flute. Down On The Farm has some very effective sounds from the electric sax, which seems to have the qualities of electric piano and electric guitar – most intrigu­ing. Khan, who is a fine player, seems to know how to ride the beast, and he trots and swirls be­tween the rhythm instruments, now like a bassoon, now like a wailing guitar, hardly ever like a straight tenor.

Pleasure City opens to a tumultuous ovation and brings back the rock beat with some powerful playing from Potter on bass guitar. The voicing of the instruments is presumably West­brook’s, and the theme statement is beautifully done before Boyle flies again. Khan comes on growling like one of those tenor players who used to play with Bill Doggett, and once again, with Jackson thrashing away, the rhythmic powerhouse takes over. Khan is the major voice in the final theme statement and the Westbrook and Boyle swop ideas for a bit until the segue into Hyde Park Song, a slow and beautiful number starting with some reflective piano soloing. Khan plays a moody tenor solo – he seems to lurk about in the lower registers a lot of the time – the mournful figure continuing over Jackson’s alto to be quietly laid to rest while the band ex­change vocal comments, much to the amusement of the audience. It must have been some con­cert, and it’s certainly some re­cord.

Travellin’; Compassion; Down On The Farm (32 min) – Pleasure City; Hyde Park Song (24 min)
George Khan (ten); Mike Westbrook (elec-pno/hca); Gary Boyle (gtr); Butch Potter (bs-gtr/pongo stick/flt); Alan Jackson (dm/alt). Kelly College, Tavistock 15/1/72. ‘Compassion’, London 23/2/72.
(Cadillac SGC 1001 £1.95)

Note: this was a second opinion on this album, already reviewed by Barry McRae in 1973, where much of it was dismissed as “underground pop”.