Chris Spedding: Songs Without Words

The British guitarist's 1970 album with Paul Rutherford and John Marshall mixes well-mannered modal and free jazz, rock, folk and Latin


Some musicians playing jazz-rock in the 1970s may have been unable to reconcile both elements when it came to deciding their future direction between gigs and albums. Guitarist Chris Spedding was a prime example, always juggling his propensities and his response to listener expectations insofar as they could be divined.

Songs Without Words was made for the Harvest label over 40 years ago but only released at the time in Japan by EMI’s partner Toshiba. Spedding always considered it “unfinished” and in need of editing. Admired by both the rock and jazz fraternities, he did other things, associating with, inter alia, Brian Ferry, Katie Melua and the Sex Pistols. But now the album reappears in a modestly edited and remastered form and with a bonus track.

Songs Without Words is as persuasive an advocate for jazz-rock as many others that, unlike it, now threaten to sound dated. This is because Spedding’s band was fully integrated, treating the album’s riffing numbers as vehicles for free, sometimes, circumambulatory comment. Station Song is typical, its structure loose and its improvisation dictating momentum, with Paul Rutherford endowing the trombone with colour and character and Spedding sharpening edges everywhere before entering the fray fully charged at the end. The Forest Of Fables is a freeplay intro to the deceptively simple New Song Of Experience, the unassuming melody of which is subverted by John Mitchell’s electric piano, some late jokey onomatopoeia, and perimeters sparked by Spedding on electric guitar.

Bassist Roger Potter has more than a moment on Plain Song as an arco contribution to a duet with Spedding’s acoustic guitar. Drummer John Marshall, consummate time-keeper, is also a source of unpredictable detonation, especially exploding from the standard Latin American beat and tempo of Song Of The Deep. Spedding’s I Thought I Heard Robert Johnson Say is an inspired free-for-all, the emphasis on both “free” and “inspired”.

Station Song; Plain Song; Song Of The Deep; The Forest Of Fables; New Song Of Experience; I Thought I Heard Robert Johnson Say (37.49)
Spedding (g, elg); Paul Rutherford (tb); Roger “Butch” Potter (b, elb); John Mitchell (p, elp); John Marshall (d). London, 1970.
Esoteric Recordings QECLEC2863