The wondrous Cuneiform label does the business again with a double CD of live material...
Peter Marsh 2002
Despite leaving behind only a tiny (and hard to find) recorded legacy, the Brotherhood of Breath are one of the few big bands that have really mattered in the wake of Ellington and Basie. The ever-reliable Cuneiform have done a valuable job in uncovering live tapes of the band in action, starting with 2001's Travelling Somewhere, and this double CD keeps up the good work. And then some.
When Chris McGregor and his Blue Notes left their native South Africa for London in the mid 60s they soon attracted a core of like minded musicians; in fact the Brotherhood's line-up reads like a who's who of British jazz. Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, Alan Skidmore, Lol Coxhilland Elton Dean appeared in its various lineups alongside SA expats Dudu Pukwana, Mongezi Feza and Harry Miller. Under McGregor's leadership this group of disparate talents created a vibrant, distinctive music that blended township rhythms with the fire of free jazz blowing and the irresistible swing of Ellington and Fletcher Henderson.
The big band tradition is felt more strongly on the first disc, which is mostly devoted toa 1971performance recorded by Radio Bremen. Though muddily recorded, it's a stunning document, cracklingwithenergy and dotted with fantastic solos, (particularly from Feza and fellow trumpeter Marc Charig), catchy tunesand sharp, tangy brass riffage. As always, Louis Moholo's drums keep things at boiling point, and his partnership with bassist Miller produces the kind of serious bottom that the Mingus band was used to. Whether piling up driving swing figures, kwela shuffles or brief eruptions of juicy funk, the duoremain firmly in control of the engine room. McGregor is a self-effacing presence at the piano (like Basie and Ellington before him) and is at the mercy of a fairly crappy soundinginstrument too, but his urgent, tumbling riffs and occasional spare solos are unsurprisingly essential to the Brotherhood sound.
The second disc comes from 75 and was recorded (at the Bridgwater Hall) a little while before Feza's tragic and unnecessary death. Again, the sound quality leaves alot to be desired, but this is probably a better document of how the band might have sounded in concert. There's an opportunity to hear Osborne's pushy, joyous alto in full flight on his 'Untitled Original' from a February '75 date, while Feza's classic "Sonia" is given a fantastically energetic reading. The freer passages achieve a tumbling, ragged beauty that contrasts sweetly with McGregor's vivid charts. This is glorious, joyous, fierce music, and a testament to the departed spirits of some of the most creative musicians you're likely to hear on record (or anywhere else). Absolutely essential.