Recording of the Week,
Barbara Thompson at the BBC
This fascinating set from Repertoire Records focuses on the music Barbara Thompson recorded for the BBC over a twenty-one-year span. Widely regarded as one of the finest saxophonists and jazz composers that the British Isles has ever produced, Thompson first came to prominence in the overwhelmingly male-dominated jazz scene of the sixties. Classically trained on clarinet, Thompson caught the jazz bug after hearing the music of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, and soon started hanging out and jamming with the London-based players who would form the core of the British jazz-fusion scene that emerged in the seventies - including Dave Gelly, Ian Carr, Mike Gibbs, Trevor Watts, Paul Rutherwood, Michael Garrick, Jack Bruce and drummer Jon Hiseman, whom she married in 1967. Throughout this period she was also busy gaining experience on the Rhythm ‘n’ Blues scene with Graham Bond, Georgie Fame, John Mayall, Mike Taylor, and many others, which led to Thompson’s open-minded approach to music-making. Those who might not be familiar with her solo work have probably heard her contributions to Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals like Cats, or his oddball album Variations, enjoyed her music for TV detective drama A Touch of Frost, or even own a copy of Jeff Wayne’s War of the World.
Thompson developed a style unique to herself, which could go from the most seductive Stan Getzian tones to more biting modern jazz, and she went on to lead and appear in some of the key jazz-rock projects of the era, not least of which included her magisterial contributions to Neil Ardley’s seminal Kaleidoscope of Rainbows from 1976. She ran The United Jazz & Rock Ensemble, a 10-piece group including Wolfgang Dauner, Ack Van Rooyen, Ian Carr, Kenny Wheeler, Jon Hiseman, and Barbara Thompson’s Jubiaba, a 9-piece Latin/Rock band. Her longest-running project, Paraphernalia, ran for over thirty years. Sadly a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in 1997 severely hampered her live appearances and led to her temporary early retirement from live performance in 2001, but she continued to have a successful career as a composer and bandleader, and her long-awaited autobiography is due in 2021.
The material to be found on this set ranges from a live concert by the New Jazz Orchestra (introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton) in February 1969 to a set by Paraphernalia, featuring Jon Hiseman and keyboard player Peter Lemer, dating from June 1990. There are rarities like a set of compositions by Mike Taylor, broadcast in 1969 as a tribute following his then-recent death, and ‘Improvisations for Octet and Strings’ (1970); ‘Five Movements for Jazz Ensemble’ (1971), conducted by Neil Ardley and introduced by Ian Carr. Highlights include several broadcasts from the mid-1970s by Jubiaba and many sets by Paraphernalia in its various forms including a complete concert broadcast live from Holland Park. The sound quality is good to excellent throughout, and Dave Gelly’s extensive liner notes really help set the context for the various recordings. What strikes home the most from this set is just how comfortable Thompson could be in any setting in which she put herself, always bringing fresh invention and sublime tones to the party. As a place to seriously start exploring her brilliant contribution to jazz, this new boxset makes an ideal introduction.