It’s England, It’s the ’60s, and Big Bands Are Coming Back


Subject for Further Research: the British jazz explosion of the late ’60s and early ’70s. John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, and John Surman you presumably know about, along with the intrepid Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. But Harold Beckett, Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza, Paul Rutherford, Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne—these are unfamiliar names here, victims of American exceptionalism compounded by questions of racial authenticity. The period’s ace soloists clustered in either or both of two big bands, the Mike Westbrook Orchestra and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. Westbrook’s outfit was the more identifiably “British,” artfully incorporating prog, William Blake, and ceremonial marches. McGregor was a white South African who had fled apartheid in 1964. His signature was the kwela echoes that reflected the presence in his band of black South Africans such as Pukwana, Feza, and drummer Louis Moholo. The two-disc Bremen to Bridgwater captures three Brotherhood of Breath concerts from 1971 and 1975. As was true of Cuneiform’s earlier Travelling Somewhere, the recording quality is on a par with Sun Ra’s Saturns of the same time, with the leader’s piano suffering most—a shame, because even though McGregor was strictly a fundamental soloist, the Brotherhood derived much of their energy from his quirky comping and interjections. Another deterrent to prolonged listening is a sameness in tempo (fast) and dynamics (loud). But McGregor’s compositions and those of his sidemen are both intricate and jubilant, the solos—by the South Africans, Osborne, Beckett, and others—are high-stepping, and with the band’s two LPs for RCA Neon difficult to find (the second was never even issued here), this will do just fine.

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