Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Jazz UK in 2002. Sadly, the efforts of Gilles Peterson and Tony Higgins did not, as many of us had hoped, result in the reissue of the vast British jazz archive on Universal records. However, it did perhaps prompt companies such as Dutton Vocalion and BGO to come to arrangements with Universal that have allowed many wonderful albums to find their way to CD. For that, our thanks go to Gilles and Tony.
‘This beautiful music deserves to be heard not for extortionate prices but for the £9 or £10 of buying a CD and not just by the core Jazz fans but it’s people like me and younger that are very open-minded to hearing lots of different styles of Jazz. It’s as fresh hearing it now as it must been hearing it then.’ Nathan Graves, Head of Jazz, Universal Records.
Rarely does the release of a compilation CD merit headlines but that’s definitely the case with Impressed, a unique plundering of the vaults courtesy of DJ Gilles Peterson and Universal Records. For the first time in years, Jazz fans can hear some of the best British music of the sixties – music long missing in action. With tunes from Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Mike Garrick and the much lamented Rendell-Carr Quintet, the album already looks like a winner. There’s a lot riding on it. If it’s successful, fans can expect to see some of these rarest of rare records back in the racks.
We asked Gilles Peterson how it started. “Really, it started just as doing tapes and things for myself and my friends. I’d started picking up some of these British Jazz records from the sixties and made a tape together and I thought I should send it to Nathan Graves at Universal because they own a lot of this stuff. He’s a really lovely guy and he liked it. He just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’
As for the choice of the eight tracks to include, it simply came down to the first that got cleared and that they found the masters for. I asked Gilles how they found these legendary tapes and he tells me that Tony Higgins, his manager (and author of Impressed’s excellent sleeve notes), did the detective work. Gilles tells me, “It took ages. I put this together three years ago and it’s taken that long. Until he got on the case who understood all about the Lansdowne series and got to speak to the musicians it was on hold.”
Only one track, the Joe Harriott/Amancio D’Silva Quartet’s lovely Jaipur, needed to be mastered off vinyl. For the rest, including Rendell-Carr Quintet’s version of pianist Mike Garrick’s era-defining Dusk Fire, were there on near pristine tape in Hanover. Given his involvement with Jazz-Dance, I wondered if he’d been tempted to remix the tracks. Gilles just shrugs off the question, “Remixing? No. I’d rather try and get the bands back together.”
If any Jazz UK readers are surprised by Gilles’ involvement in the project, then their view of him is somewhat one-dimensional. Nathan Graves is full of praise for Gilles and as he suggests, “It was having someone like Gilles with his media profile that made me think we’ve definitely got to do this.” To Gilles, ‘It’s all Jazz.’ His personal journey into the music was through Funk bands like Light of the World and Incognito and from there via Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to Coltrane and Miles and onto the European and British scenes. “I’ve always had two areas to think about when I’m putting music together. I think about it as a club DJ, so things like the Tubby Hayes’ Down in the Village or Ronnie Ross’ Cleopatra’s have been Classics in that arena for some time. But then as a radio DJ I’m able to go a lot deeper and play things like Dusk Fire or those beautiful Mike Garrick melodies. Those songs can sit in perfectly on the radio. I can play Hip Hop next to Black Marigolds.” As Gilles says, it’s all about creating a context for the music.
I asked Tony Higgins what they’d found as a result of his ‘detective work’. “It was a case of deduction really. I contacted the chief librarian in Hanover and lo’ and behold all five of the Rendell-Carr tapes were there. Sadly we couldn’t find all of the (Denis Preston) Lansdowne recordings. For instance we don’t know where the Joe Harriott ‘Hum Dono’ tapes are.” I ask what else is missing and Tony tells me that both guitarist Amancio D’Silva’s albums – Integration and Reflection have yet to surface but to Tony’s relief both Neil Ardley’s New Jazz Orchestra records – Western Union and Déjeuner Sur L’herbe – and his album featuring Don Rendell and Ian Carr, Greek Variations have turned up.
The problem arises that the different labels changed hands several times and tapes moved around over the years. But Tony isn’t giving up. “I’m hoping that someone somewhere has these tapes. I intend to make a hit list of thirty to forty key albums of that time and pin them down in the hope they can be released.”
When I spoke to him about Impressed, Ian Carr told me a story about the Rendell-Carr Quintet. “That was a great group. It was very, very poetic music and it brought a lot of people into Jazz. I met this guy who wrote for Avant Magazine and he came and spoke to me at a concert. He said, ‘I’ve always meant to tell you that a friend and I thought we should get into Jazz and we went to see the Rendell-Carr Quintet and the spotlight shone on you and you began to play your solo and that was the very moment I fell in love with Jazz.” I know the story’s true – I was that soldier.
I asked Mike Garrick, who features on the CD with his own trio and on the two Rendell-Carr Quintet tracks about the lovely tune he wrote for Rendell, Dusk Fire. That’s the one they’re playing in my memory at that concert all those years ago. “Dusk Fire does seem to be a special piece, in that Don took it to his soul. He loved it and I think it brought out the finest qualities of Don as a Jazz musician. So, every performance we did of Dusk Fire was special and I didn’t feel that to the same extent with any other piece, though Black Marigolds (also featured) took off as well. But the emotional level that Don attained on that track was at its peak. I had just to jot down the tune – it took me all of about ten minutes to write – which enabled us to bring this feeling out of the group and not just Don. It was Don who wanted a big intense introduction to the piece. He would want it absolutely boiling and then he’d come in on top of it. Absolutely beautiful.” I can’t add a thing to that.
Nathan Graves tells me that the advance response from critics and retail outlets has been positive enough to warrant a follow-up CD. He also wants to reissue the original albums but this well depend on sales of Impressed. “This isn’t by any means a done deal yet but I’d like to do that with Tony Higgins who’s put a proposal to me. We’ll work towards this year on doing batches of the originals.” There’s also talk of some reunion concerts from Gilles and Tony and from my conversation with Ian Carr, it certainly sounds like he’s up for it. The exciting thing is that there seems to be an audience out there – and not just of ‘forty-fifty somethings’ either.
With original Rendell-Carr and Mike Garrick records selling for hundreds of pounds – often but not only in Japan – these are rare artefacts that fans are collecting like stamps or Art. But what is it apart from scarcity – most went out on print runs of no more than 500 copies – that makes them special. Everyone I talked to from Gilles and Tony to Nathan and to musicians like Ian Carr and Mike Garrick all agree this was a special time. There’s a particular passion that comes across from Gilles, Tony and Nathan. When I suggest that they represent a missing piece of history, Tony Higgins puts it like this, “Definitely. Not only is it great music and playing, they are historical and social artefacts. They represent a bridge between one school of music and another. It’s about time these guys’ work was acknowledged.’ Nathan Graves talks of ‘the incredible amount of music locked up in the archives’ that shouldn’t be. This could be the first time that Jazz fans in Britain, Europe and Japan might actually hold the key to open those vaults and let the light of history shine again. Buy Impressed now. Let’s get this stuff out people!