Tuesday, October 12, 2010

previous encounter

(a fairly brief update to my john carter article, as promised)

when i last wrote about "encounter", i had four versions of the piece to draw on - and a conspicuous (eighteen-year!) gap between the first and second of them. since then i have rather assumed that the piece must surely have been revived before '88 - and it turns out that such is indeed the case. this 1979 performance was posted online some months ago now, but i only came across it quite recently... the published track listing is incomplete with the last two pieces played listed as unknown, but the final number is, in fact, my old friend "encounter"... and that discovery, at any rate, splits the gap neatly in half ;-)

5. john carter quintet, live in rome, 16th august 1979.
carter - clarinet; bobby bradford - trumpet*;  james newton - flute; bob stewart - tuba; phillip wilson - drums

- the poster refers to a studio album, recorded the previous day by the same remarkable line-up (four aerophones plus drums! off the top of my head i can't think of another quintet with that instrumentation); i don't know this album, but an online search brought up this handy discography: "encounter" wasn't on the date. given its appearance here, though, it seems reasonable to suppose that it might have been used previously, either as a last number or as an encore. here, it doesn't particularly look to go anywhere, just generates some happy excitement so as to send the audience home on a buoyant high. it is very tempting indeed to assume that carter used it regularly to that effect (and that what he did with the '88 band was reinvent the piece, not merely revive it).

this version does not begin with the familiar bassline; that doesn't enter until about the 1.00 mark, which is possibly why such an easily-identifiable piece was missed by the poster (? or maybe he just didn't know the number). still, just wilson's skittering cymbals are enough of a clue as to what's coming, and bradford's improvised flights during the first minute sketch out the basic tessitura pretty well - so that it came as no surprise to me, at least, when the brass bass kicked in with the ascending "perpetual motion" line. soon after, the other horns conjure up the melody; and what ensues is really something of a free-for-all, joyous in its playful energy, newton and carter in particular sparking off each other to great effect. the sense of freedom is infectious, stewart by no means limiting himself to the confines of the written line but departing from it as he feels, never losing the pulse but letting wilson take care of the propulsion. newton, carter and bradford all play delightfully on this closing number, and it's safe to say that the mission will have been accomplished: surely no-one will have walked away from this concert without an ear-to-ear smile and a light heart.

(the recording is fairly ropey in this case; nevertheless the concert itself is well worth hearing for any fans of the horn players in particular. those who are not fully committed to the cause of the audiophile may even use this as an exercise in how to listen past recording limitations and engage directly with the music. as background noise... no, it's not going to work that well. but the quality of the performance is the reward just waiting for the ear which opens to seek it.)

i'm always on the hunt for other versions of this piece... till the next update, then..!

* bradford is of course better known as a cornet specialist, not a trumpeter as such... but carter does clearly say "bobby bradford on trumpet" both at the beginning of the set and at the end (as heard on this cut) - so presumably that's what he was playing on this occasion.


Spring Day said...

The line-up with these four aerophones looks really interesting and rare enough. Certainly the sax-quartet-plus-drums format (e.g. The Tiptons) is also "four aerophones plus drums", yet sounds not such an odd combination. And on the brass side of it, you've got Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy and recently Dave Douglas Brass Ecstacy. These examples that come to my mind are probably different in concept, more focussed on harmonic playing than this diverse Carter Quintet line-up?

centrifuge said...

spring day, of course you are correct in your examples. i suppose what i meant is that i can't think of another "jazz quintet" with this sort of instrumentation; now, clearly if one starts out by choosing an ensemble purely made up of reeds/brass then adds a time-keeper, one will end up with the same result... WSQ have played with just a drummer too at times...

- of course it's pretty rare in modern jazz to hear a brass bass, end of story... although there have been players such as joe daley - and stewart - who have fulfilled this role. makes an interesting change! but really, the ace in the pack on this recording is newton, i think... still, a very strong line-up throughout.