In the Spirit of the Times

(Ayler Records. aylCD- 048/049)
GARY WINDO: Anglo-American (Cuneiform Records. Rune 189)

Some music and musicians are linked irrevocably to a specific era, either because premature exits or enforced retirement have limited their contribution to those particular times or because their strongest work appeared then. Feza, of course, suffered an all too early exit while Windo kept on going until 1992. While it is impossible to predict what the trumpeter would have gone on to achieve, in Windo’s case I feel that the work done in the ferment of the 1970s was among his strongest and most intense.

Explosive South African trumpeter Feza was a guest with Bernt Rosengren’s quartet along with Turkish percussionist, Okay Temiz, during November and December 1972 and Free Jam was recorded during this time in an old paint and glass-blowing factory in Stockholm. The location may not seem inspiring but the sound definitely is, being both raw and full of the energies of collective improvisation, with band members shouting encouragement while the rest respond with vigorous, ebullient solos and group blowing.

On the first cd the opening ‘Theme Of The Day’ is nearly forty minutes of this approach and features a typically buoyant solo from Feza as well as a freely ranging alto break by Rosengren and some muscular tenor from Tommy Koverhult. But much of the track is a high energy group interaction with players moving to the foreground then shifting back into the ensemble again. It is a truly exhilarating sound driven by the twin percussive assault of Temiz and quartet drummer, Leif Wennerstrom. It ends with Rosengren abstracting a melodic theme, apparently from a pop song, ‘Sambabiten’, stretching it a little and bringing the piece to a joyously steady rhythmic conclusion.

From the same day ‘Group Notes 1’ continues the mood of free improvisation and highlights Feza’s dynamic playing alongside Koverhult and Rosengren. ‘Group Notes 2’ also finds the tenor man exploring though in slightly more restrained manner, holding notes then unleashing cascades of them. It reminded me of Coltrane momentarily. There is a more spacious feel to this track though the energy levels are still quite high.

The second cd also opens with ‘Theme For The Day II’, in this case a spiralling motif that gradually mutates into a group improvisation led by Rosengren. The drumming is particularly fierce and it is a shame that the track seems to fade before it really gets started. Following on though, is the first of several tracks which prominently feature Feza. ‘Mong’s Research I’ allows him space to build a furious solo supported only by Wennerstrom and Temiz. He then carries this on at the start of ‘Group Notes III’ wrenching squirming metallic figures from his trumpet whilst again being powerfully driven by the force emanating from the twin percussion team. It is probably one of the longest solos I’ve heard him take and his energy and invention become quite staggering, cutting a swaggering path through the  track. The other major force on this track is Rosengren who matches Feza in resourcefulness and power.

A further  three sections of ‘Mong’s Research’ also contain stunning examples of his technique as he bursts out in barely contained melodic torrents over Rosengren on piano. He seems to want to explore every aspect of the improvisations, his tone shifting through a range of moods. Again, this is another one of the most sustained performances I’ve come across, possibly even surpassing work he laid down with Brotherhood Of Breath and The Blue Notes and reminding me what a terrible loss his early death was for the music.

Although this is ostensibly a guest session from the trumpeter he contributes much of the excitement and verve to the performances, sounding like a small musical tornado, aided crucially by the empathies of both drummers. For anyone, like me, who feels they’ve never heard enough of his work this is absolutely essential listening. Jan Strom’s team at Ayler deserve an award both for making it available in the first place and for presenting it in an informative and attractive package with distinctive cover artwork, as ever, by Ake Bjurhamn.

Gary Windo was a real maverick and a ubiquitous presence on the English jazz scene during the 1970s when he could be found raising the musical temperature with those of similar propensities. For example he and Feza were soul mates frequently playing side by side in various ensembles where they could unleash their  penchant for free improvisation.

Sure enough they team up here, as part of this second retrospective of Windo’s work, in the band Symbiosis with fellow free spirits Nick Evans and Robert Wyatt. This piece, ‘Standfast’ from 1971 is typical with bluff trombone from Evans, joyous trumpet from Feza and Windo’s own tempestuous tenor. As he says in the notes this was ‘a perfect portrait of the restlessness and searching that was happening in the English music scene at that time’.

Similarly, ‘Take Off’ from 1976 showcases what looks like a scaled down Brotherhood of Breath with Dudu Pukwana, Mark Charig, Nick Evans and the Harry Miller/Louis Moholo drum and bass axis. The spirit of that ensemble is certainly present here, as all the horns simultaneously blend and fire off individually while Moholo’s powerhouse drumming fuels them. It’s a pity that it ends abruptly after around 5 minutes since the band were obviously in full flight.

A smaller group, WMWM, featuring Wyatt, Ron Mathewson on basses and Dave MacCrae on electric piano recorded in 1973 and this smaller scale line-up allows Windo to indulge some of his wildest tenor explosions, free and blustery he rides over the steady rhythms on the lengthy ‘Carmus’. Occasionally he digs in and sounds like a tough old style rhythm ‘n’ blues tenor man but mostly he’s off exploring the outer reaches.

Much of the other material here is from 1979 and 1981 recordings when he was living and working in the States, often as part of Carla Bley’s band. There is a beautiful example of the, all too rare, mellow Windo on the title track, recorded with his quartet. It is  testament to the fact that he could put restraint before ebullience when the mood was on him, coaxing subtle nuances from Pam Windo’s moving melody. From the same session comes the rockier ‘Is This The Time?’ where he ranges across the tenor to produce gutsy honking and ecstatic free blowing while the rhythm section of Steve Swallow and D. Sharpe is locked tight and solid. Windo’s other main instrument, the bass clarinet, has its moment on the improvised ‘Free To Go’ gargling darkly against the jabbing piano and busy percussion. I wish he had recorded more on this horn.

There was often a cheesy, irreverent humour behind his work, as on his version of The Stranglers’ ‘Peaches’ which appears on the previous retrospective ‘His Master’s Bones’. Here it manifests itself in a version of ‘Red River Valley’ with ex-Soft Machinist Hugh Hopper on rock ’n’ roll bass. It oozes Windo’s sheer joy in playing, mistakes and all, and highlights a little of his bluesy unaccompanied tenor.

He leapt from project to project leading an intense and tempestuous life, which is reflected in a good deal of his music. This selection goes some way to re-creating the excitement of those time through the exuberant music he and his associates made. Hopefully it will encourage new listeners to discover what a distinctive and passionate musician he was.

© Paul Donnelly 2004