Ian Carr - A Celebration of a Life in Music
Art Themen, Norma Winstone, Michael Garrick, Don Rendell, Dave Green, Trevor Tomkins
Musicians from Royal College of Music, Guy Barker, Tim Whitehead
Nucleus Revisited: Geoff Castle, Mark Wood, Rob Statham, Nic France, Tim Whitehead, Chris Batchelor, Phil Todd, plus guests John Marshall and Ray Russell
Queen Elizbeth Hall, 23rd February
Given his achievements as a jazz musician, a composer, a pioneer of jazz-rock fusion and also as a writer and educator, this concert celebration of the great Ian Carr (who died from Alzheimer’s disease last year) was always going to be an ambitious task. Luckily, it had been carefully planned, satisfying those in the audience who knew Ian well (I myself was one of his students at WAC in North London) and offering a neat snapshot for the uninitiated.
The words often seemed as vital and important as the music. The musings and memories of Nikki Yeoh, Julian Joseph and Michael Garrick captured Ian’s character (his breadth of knowledge, his passions for literature as well as music, his encouragement and his occasionally acid tongue) with real detail and affection, with Garrick even veering into an uncanny impression.
The concert opened with a short solo set from Nikki Yeoh, a star student of Ian’s, who spoke openly and honestly about his inspirational teaching. Her ‘Dance of Two Small Bears’ seemed appropriately indebted to Keith Jarrett (who, along with Miles Davis, represented the pinnacle of musical achievement for Ian), delightfully playful and vibrant but with a deeper, more romantic substance.
Yeoh was followed by a group lead by Michael Garrick, and featuring members of the great Rendell-Carr quintet. The rhythm section of Dave Green and Trevor Tomkins seemed more pensive and less propulsive, but compositions such as ‘Dusk Fire’ and ‘Voices’ still have a commanding resonance. The involvement of the great vocalist Norma Winstone elevated the performance, even if she occasionally threatened to interject too frequently. The appearance of an aged but still powerful Don Rendell drew deserved cheers from the audience.
The second half began with arguably the concert’s highlight, the London premier of Carr’s work for jazz trumpet, saxophone and small string orchestra ‘Northumbrian Sketches’, originally commissioned twenty five years ago. These pieces vividly capture a sense of time and place and the writing, whilst unassuming, is absorbed in the blues and rhythmically driven. Soloists Guy Barker and Tim Whitehead played with clarity and feeling and conductor Mike Gibbs controlled the ensemble with the very minimum of physical effort. Hearing a string orchestra swing will probably always remain an unusual experience. In this case, it was also a richly enjoyable one.
The finale of a very long evening was provided by a large ensemble based on the Nucleus fusion groups of the 70s and 80s. It was extremely loud, and dominated by distorted guitar and a tightly grooving rhythm section (with Rob Statham on bass and the excellent Nic France on drums). Geoff Castle’s keyboards, especially the acoustic piano, were sadly occasionally overwhelmed. The short selection of Ian’s pieces was judicious, including ‘Mister Jelly Lord’, ‘Selena’ (inspired by Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’ and writer for Ian’s daughter), ‘Lady Bountiful’, ‘Roots’ and a majestic ‘Things Past’. I must admit to preferring the more intuitive and considered improvising of special guest guitarist Ray Russell to the histrionic shredding from Mark Wood, although the roof-raising finale featuring two guitarists and two drummers (John Marshall joining Nic France) was as vibrant and brilliantly chaotic as one of Ian’s WAC workshops. Tim Whitehead’s exultant solo on the closing ‘Things Past’ was both fittingly emotional and musically articulate.