The man is a national treasure...
Peter Marsh 2002-11-20
Over the last half a century Lol Coxhill's saxophone has appeared in a bewildering variety of contexts alongside the likes of (to name but a few) Rufus Thomas, Chris Macregor, Kevin Ayers, Alexis Korner, Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton and the Damned. To compile Spectral Soprano, Coxhill and producer Steve Beresford have trawled through the archives (going as far back as 1954) and collected a range of collaborations and solo works which cover free improvisation, straightahead jazz, R&B and much else that is unclassifiable.
What does unite Coxhill's contributions to these disparate (and indeed sometimes desperate) pieces is a deep love of melody, which is evident as much in the free improvisations as it is in the Lester Young-esque tenor of "Autumn in New York", "Perdido" and "Out of Nowhere", all recorded at 50s jam sessions. Whether playing over jazz changes, electronics or (for example) drummer Roger Turner's unholy amalgam of Kenny Clarke, Tony Williams and a breakers yard, Coxhill's playing (mostly on soprano, of course) seems utterly convincing in any context; capable of lovely, soaring melodic lines, spluttering atonalities or acerbic sarcasm.
His solo improvisation "Strictly Legal" is remarkable, taking a long, unfolding series of lines for a walk which imply some inaudible accompanist's chords. On the group improvisations his approach ranges from the lyrical (with bassist Dave Green and altoist Bruce Turner) to playful (with Veryan Weston) to rhapsodic (with Steve Miller). One of the loveliest things on the record is his 1973 duet with Miller's electric piano included 'to remind hippies that I once travelled with an echo unit', according to the sleevenotes.
The Coxhill sense of humour is also well in evidence, as on the English Translation of Althea and Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking" or the overripe vocal delivery of "Embraceable You", which segues into a meticulous deconstruction of Charlie Parkers "Quasimodo" (played brilliantly and with love by Coxhill and pianist Veryan Weston). This kind of approach is a breath of fresh air in an area of music that can take itself a bit too seriously; much like a good joke, Coxhill's playing is founded on notions of timing, cirumstance and quick thinking. The man is a national treasure, and Spectral Soprano is crammed full of fine examples of his work in progress. Recommended.