My pale parasol
Shadows my frozen hair.
Splinters of ice
Flick sun through the air.
The heat and the coldness
Are at war on the breeze,
As my fair companions
Seize the harsh and the sweet.
A great glacier before me,
Alpine Swifts above,
I shall live for ever,
An image of love.
from artWOLF dedicated to Caspar Wolf 1735-1783
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The WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show has moved here
7 May 2021
Experience / Innocence
from Songs of Experience
Blake’s lyric is inspired by the sight of orphans assembling in St Paul’s Cathedral for their Ascension Day service. Behind the facade of Charity Blake sees the ‘cold and usurous hand’ of city wealth. He uses simple metaphors of creation and the seasons to attack philanthropic sentimentality - ‘it is eternal winter there’. Mike's stark and searching piano introduction edges into the theme, and Kate's voice enters with an equally stark and eloquent questioning of established values, echoed by a band arrangement and Karen's beautiful accordion solo, which both somehow suggest what life should be like yet plaintively acknowledge that it isn't. Hence the final verse’s insistent call for justice, leading into ...
The Tyger and The Lamb
from Songs of Innocence and Experience...
Steve's hypnotic, bending bass figures and edgy percussive effects, which move and build as women’s voices pick up the nursery rhyme forms and interrelated themes. Blake is again perched and questioning between what is and what might be. Tacked back to back and intertwined, these two poems delve deep into the mysteries of creation. The gentle Christian imagery of the Lamb is mysteriously undermined by the awesome and cruel beauty of the Tyger: ‘Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’ There are also suggestions of conflict between the pastoral and the industrial: ‘What the hammer? What the chain? In what furnace was thy brain?’
Long John Brown and Little Mary Bell
from The Pickering manuscript
A free, bluesy introduction falls into a marching groove as the choir enters, and we hear Phil's caustic and passionate evocation of the torments of human love and of an impliedcondemnation of a wrong-headed religious repression of human sexuality. Whether cosmic drama or tragedy of misplaced love, Fairy and Devil between them ensure that it doesn't end well. Rage storms around the frantic solo voice and Billy's intense, impassioned violin improvisation. The gothic R&B fairytale fades into a softly ironic windswept distance.
Experience / Innocence
In an amazing bout of creativity and endurance English composer and bandleader Mike Westbrook, who turned 85 in March, provided listeners all over the world with a precious selection of films documenting his 50+ years of activity with the WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show, available on his website. It’s an excellent starting point after which you’ll want to listen to his original music, his classic celebrations of the great composers of the past like Rossini and Ellington to his own memorable renditions in music of lyrics by Blake and many other poets, a concept that accompanied him over the years in projects like The Cortège and London Bridge is Broken Down, still two of the most accomplished records in Westbrook’s canon.
The starting point for Westbrook is unmistakably the creative orchestral tradition of African-American composers like Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus; he shares with them the unending search for ways to integrate soloists’ improvised contributions into the prepared score. He also has the most precious ally in the supple voice and dramatic gift of his life and art companion, painter and musician Kate Westbrook, a constant presence in his music for almost 50 years. Her voice is an essential element of the music they created together, a unifying factor, as Brian Morton wrote, in a career that has spanned decades and all genres: a relationship not unlike the one between Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi and equally irksome for the male-dominated jazz world.
Westbrook was an art teacher in Plymouth in the late ‘50s, a jazz fan playing trumpet and aspiring to be a composer, inspired by blues and boogie. He founded a sextet with guitarist/future AMM founder Keith Rowe and trumpeter Phil Minton, a major contributor as singer and instrumentalist in many of Westbrook’s projects over the years. Rowe recruited John Surman, at 16 just beginning to play baritone saxophone. All the members of the band moved to London in the early ‘60s. Those were the roots of Westbrook’s Concert Band that played Ronnie Scott’s Old Place, the original club in Gerard Street graciously left to the London jazz avant garde musicians for the remaining time of the lease. That band included, among others, Mike Osborne and South African bassist Harry Miller and its Deram albums, Celebration and Release, were a manifesto of the upcoming European jazz of the ‘70s and showcase for Surman’s many talents as soloist and composer. The first album is based only on original compositions while the second features rearrangements of an eclectic choice of songs, including “Lover Man”, “Flying Home” and “The Girl from Ipanema”, establishing another key theme of Westbrook’s oeuvre. Since then the list of his collaborators over the decades reads like a Who’s Who of UK and European jazz.
9 May 2021
from 'The New York City Jazz Record' - May 2021
The following album, 1969’s Marching Song, released at the time as two separate LPs but now available on CD in its entirety, is a pacifist jazz symphony, an ecological statement including textbased pieces, free-form solos and bluesy harmonica. In an article for UK magazine Avant Westbrook himself described his Ellingtonian approach: “In my band I had a combination of free improvisers and straightahead players, as well as people from the rock world. As a composer, I’ve always been interested in structuring music in some way. That can mean a formal arrangement or chord sequence or just a concept or even a poem. There were a lot of people around like Kenny Wheeler and Paul Rutherford who enjoyed playing in a range of settings. The ideal world is one where all these things can come together.” Love Songs from 1970 was the first major vocal record, with the voice of Norma Winstone. The beginning of the ‘70s saw a burst of activity with his first Blake project, Tyger, born as a musical staged at the National Theatre and then released on RCA; the Metropolis suite with Winstone, Wheeler, Rutherford, Harry Beckett and John Taylor among others and Solid Gold Cadillac, jazz-rock including Minton on trumpet and voice. In 1973 Kate and Mike met.
Westbrook then had a proposal of forming a street band to play at fringe theater festivals and community arts events with the “magicians’ collective” Welfare State (the street theater company founded by John Fox in 1968). After Westbrook, the Musical Director of the company would be Lol Coxhill. This became the basis for the Brass Band, a group that formed the Westbrooks’ main touring group and the nucleus of many future projects, including The Cortège. A milestone was receiving a commission to write for the Swedish Radio Jazz Orchestra featuring Surman as soloist. Citadel/Room 315 premiered in 1974 in Stockholm: “I wrote most of it on a piano in Room 315 in Leeds Polytechnic, where Kate was teaching at the Art School,” said Westbrook, hence the title. Followers of the UK music scene will probably notice the key role of art schools - open to innovation and art from the 20th Century - in the careers of most of the musicians who after 1960 brought British music to the global forefront. In 1977 there was a momentous meeting between Westbrook’s band and Henry Cow for a live concert and the bandleader was inspired by Dagmar Krause’s vocals, Lindsay Cooper’s bassoon and Georgie Born’s cello: they later joined the band for The Cortége.
Westbrook’s music from mid ‘70s-mid ‘80s ranges from the brilliant solo Piano, with its echoes of Monk and stride, to the major suite London Bridge is Broken Down, his first collaboration with a full classical ensemble. Westbrook recalled the mishaps at the premiere in Amiens, France: “...it was a European work that included English poetry and French and German poetry selected by Kate with the help of European friends. There was a long period of rehearsal in London and several trips to Amiens, before the two ensembles met for the premiere. London Bridge was long and the conductor Alexandre Myrat proposed performing it in three parts. The concert opened with a popular French/Canadian duo who clearly delighted the jazz festival audience. They came back again and again for encores while 50 of us waited in the wings. The first part of London Bridge went fine. Unfortunately the message had not got through to most of the audience that there were three parts to the composition. A sizeable number left, thinking the concert was over. By the second interval it was really getting late and a lot more people left, thinking this must surely be the end. We completed the concert to a small scattering of die-hards... In fact we had given the Jazz Festival rather more than it bargained for… Next morning the organizers wouldn’t look us in the eye and the reviews were poor.” Following sales and the influence of the album more than vindicated it. Included in the period are Mama Chicago, a musical devoted to the Prohibition Era, and Love for Sale, probably the best recording of the longstanding trio of the Westbrooks with saxophonist Chris Biscoe, weaving a tale of sentiment and social protest through classic songs by Weill, Porter and Holst and original compositions on texts by Rimbaud, Blake, Kate Westbrook and Anne LePape. After Smith’s Hotel from 1983 Westbrook introduced the "infamous Smith’s Hotel chord”, a harmonic development that could be his own harmolodia: “a way of superimposing a pattern on another, a conventional chord with a kind of free counterpoint, which gives intervals and clusters.”
Two major albums for hatART of the ‘80s present very different tributes to composers: On Duke’s Birthday is a suite of original compositions while Westbrook Rossini is based on rearranged versions of the Italian opera composer’s music. Westbrook always has a special relationship with Italy. Filippo Bianchi was instrumental in the commission of Westbrook’s Beatles project, Off Abbey Road, subsequently released on Enja, for the Reggio Emilia festival in 1988. Pompeo Benincasa from Catania Jazz invited Westbrook in 1992, with guest Italian trombonist Danilo Terenzi and French violinist Dominique Pifarely, for a concert that was recently released.
The latter double CD is a remarkable synthesis of Westbrook’s music from reinterpretations of Ellington and Weill to settings in music of Blake’s poetry in a vibrant live environment. The release is dedicated to the late Jon Hiseman, of Colosseum fame and sometime Westbrook collaborator, who died shortly after bringing back to life the problematic live recordings. It was a momentous event, chronicled at the time by Morton on The Wire and rightly celebrated in a unique 2018 concert in the same Sicilian city with the Uncommon Orchestra, the 20+-member group established in 2016 by Westbrook in the mold of his Metropolis band. On the WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show you can enjoy the rendition of the traditional Sicilian folksong “Lu Me Sceccu (The Ass)” with Pete Whyman on clarinet. In Westbrook’s own words, the Catania festival was “the best gift a composer ever had.”
• Mike Westbrook Concert Band—Celebration
• Mike Westbrook Orchestra—Metropolis
• Mike Westbrook (featuring John Surman)—
Love And Understanding (Citadel/Room 315 Sweden
’74) (My Only Desire, 1974)
• Mike Westbrook Orchestra—Love/Dream and
Variations (Transatlantic, 1976)
• Mike Westbrook Orchestra—On Duke’s Birthday
• Mike Westbrook—Starcross Bridge
Films from The WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show can be seen here
The New York City Jazz Record
28 May 2021
My Pale Parasol
The album 'artWOLF' is available as a download from Bandcamp