The many diverse tones of humanity in Kate Westbrook's powerfully vivid voice, the complex multilayered dimensions of the expressively ambivalent saxophones of Chris Biscoe and Pete Whyman and the throbbing heartbeat of Steve Berry's bass with Jon Hiseman's pulsating drums are long and often-heard companions of Mike Westbrook and his ever-inventive keys.
They sound again all through Fine 'n Yellow, where Kate's lyrics become the true provocateurs of Mike's notes and arrangements.
"I will write love as a girdle round the globe," wrote Kate in My Lover's Coat, as one of a group of songs without music she composed for and dedicated to John and Margery Styles, two late friends who founded the Smith's Academy Informer, a newsletter committed to the Westbrooks' music.
Mike took Kate's words as his musical starting point and allowed "the shape of the texts to determine the musical form rather than coercing the words into existing structures," a sequence he wrote that he found "liberating."
The result is a beautifully honed musical essay which creates a living harmony with the words, most of which speak of love, friendship and union - as Kate sings in What I Like. "Bless us with friendship/Bringing hearts ease/Warmth and kindness/The gift to please."
And the music brings the same sensations, played by six veteran jazz troubadours.
The tension is raised by 34 seconds of Kate singing Billie Holiday's Fine And Mellow and as she passes into Yellow Dog, she tells the harrowing story of Margery's father, who died as a prisoner of war in 1942, working on the Burma railway, as the sun "Burns the ground, burns the gully dry/Burns my burgeoning surprise/Burns my weeping eyes."
Berry's booming bass beneath Hiseman's skittering cymbals preface Kate's words of lives blasted by fascism and war and Biscoe's withering moving alto solo, his pealing notes that follow Kate's lines. "No-one will whisper Blaydon Races" for this Geordie lad, all prefacing his mournful yet life-lived coda on Dollarbird.
My Lover's Coat tells of Margery wearing John's jacket after he died "On all the great land masses and/Over all the mighty oceans."
Berry's sound is huge again - as huge as love itself and the word Margery speaks with the blackbird in her hedge: "Did you read what I wrote my love, love, love? Did you spell out love?"
The passage of time and life itself is the theme of Yellow Fig Leaf as Kate reflects on the last autumnal leaf hanging in the Westbrooks' Devon yard. "Yellow gold, it seems lit from within" and it breathes her friend's name. Berry's bass and Hiseman's drums dance inside Kate's beautifully sung words.
Biscoe's soprano horn and Whyman's bass clarinet find unity and harmony within the promises of "fleshly green buds" given new life.
A rare piano feature from Westbrook himself is the body and soul of Through The Dark, each note dropping on the ears like water, yet full of depth and experience of a jazz lifetime. It precedes the Creole echoes of Whyman's pure clarinet on Yellow Tracery which takes jazz back to its Crescent City beginnings before it swings onwards to My Lover's Heart, where Kate digs low in her notes as she "writes 'love' as a star burst through the dark" and her own dark timbre contrasts so starkly with the startling clarity of Whyman's revelatory clarinet.
The track vibrates with subterranean fire as Berry's everlasting bass beats its enormous sound.
The final song What I Like is a praise song to pleasure and to all its humane dimensions, to "desires, humour and grace" to love and wisdom all in harmony.
"Bless us with song" sings Kate with the saxophones of Whyman and Biscoe whirling around her in a "yellow room of life's enjoyment.
She invokes "comedy, tragedy, anything absurd," a world and its achievements to learn and to savour, sung and played with verve and a storm of creativity and energy by six life-filled musicians.
This is an album that makes you proud of life, pleased to be human, played by jazz musicians whose endless music has made them into griots of sound, melody and improvisation.
And a word for the Westbrooks in particular for Kate's lucidity of voice and message, always wrapped in reality, always positive and Mike taking his cues from her words, making notes of meaning, warning and celebration and so often reaching and staying with beauty.
One day this country will realise their greatness.
Chris Searle - Morning Star - April 2012
An album dedicated to the memory of Margery and John Styles commissioned by the Margery Styles Estate which was distributed to friends and family of Margery and John and to subscribers of the Smith's Academy Informer of which John and Margery were the founders.
Issued on ASC CD149
Mike Westbrook Recordings
Fine 'n Yellow
text: Kate Westbrook
music: Mike Westbrook
1. Fine and Mellow
2. Yellow Dog
4. My Lover's Coat
5. Yellow Fig Leaf
6. Through The Dark
7. Yellow Tracery
8. My Lover's Heart
9. What I Like
Kate Westbrook voice
Chris Biscoe alto & soprano saxophones / alto clarinet
Peter Whyman alto & soprano saxophones / clarinet / bass clarinet
Mike Westbrook piano & keyboards
Steve Berry double bass
Jon Hiseman drums
Smith's Academy Informer has now become the Westbrook Notice Board. The notice board also has links to past issues of the Informer
Kate Westbrook’s lyrics have been enriching partner Mike’s music since the 1970s, most recently with the Art Wolf project, but here I think she has surpassed herself. Fine ‘n Yellow was commissioned by Margery Styles as a memorial for her life and that of her husband John. The couple were close friends of the Westbrooks' and this charming record oozes affection. The closest one can ever feel to another human being lies in the sense of being known completely. It is this very thing that Kate’s lyrics suggest to me here and Mike wraps them in a music that defines companionship. The closing ‘What I like’ leaves me wishing I knew these people, while Mike’s solo blues ‘Through the Dark’ is filled with late night conviviality. The Styles’ devotion to each other is reflected in both ‘My Lover’s Coat’ and the even better ‘My Lover’s Heart’, while the playing from all involved is totally assured. This is the Westbrooks' best release in a while- and that says a lot.
Duncan Heining - Jazzwise - September 2010
Catania - Live in Sicily 1992
in memory of
Says The Duke
Earth Felt The Wound
Love and Understanding
The School of Jolly Dogs
A Bigger Show
“Mike Westbrook is opening new vistas in his writing” Franpi Barriaux, Citizen Jazz
“Chris Biscoe is marvellous on saxophone. Mike’s sparse piano playing, Ellingtonian and Monkish at the same time, is a beautiful mount for Kate’s dark voice, which is as extraordinary as ever. An amazing piece of work.” Pierre-Henri Ardonceau Jazz Magazine
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You can also purchase CDs via mail order. Please send your order and a cheque payable to "M. Westbrook" to Westbrook, PO Box 92, Dawlish, EX7 9WN.