Tuesday, July 28, 2015

If - 1970 - If

If 
1970
If
 


01. I'm Reaching Out On All Sides - 5:44
02. What Did I Say About The Box, Jack? - 8:22
03. What Can a Friend Say? - 6:56
04. Woman Can You See (What This Big Thing Is All About) - 4:12
05. Raise The Level of Your Conscious Mind - 3:16
06. Dockland - 4:45
07. The Promised Land - 3:44

Dennis Elliott - Drums
J.W. Hodgkinson - Vocals
John Mealing - Keyboards, Vocals
Dick Morrissey - Saxophones, Flute
Dave Quincy - Saxophones
Jim Richardson - Bass
Terry Smith - Guitar



IF was a seminal jazz-rock band formed in 1969 as Britain's answer to the pioneering US bands Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago. The main difference was that IF did not have a trumpet or trombone player and featured two saxes instead. Essentially a live band, true to its strong jazz influences IF was probably the only jazz-rock group, both then and now, to feature solos by all the band members, not just by the lead instruments.

They toured extensively in Europe and the States during the early Seventies, performing at most of the major venues and festivals of the day (Newport, Reading, Fillmores East & West, Whiskey A-Go-Go, The Marquee, etc.) and shared billings with, amongst others, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Leon Russell as well as many of the classic rock bands of the day, such as Cream, Traffic, Yes, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, Ten Years After, KISS, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Like the early Chicago, they were difficult to classify with any of their contemporaries; they seemed out of place wherever they played, and were considered too jazzy when billed with groups with a more rock orientation and too bluesy or loud when billed with more jazz-oriented bands.

IF thus became one of the most highly-acclaimed groups of the Seventies to never quite make the big time, despite good record sales and full venues. The band was managed and its albums produced by Lew Futterman, who had previously produced US jazz/soul stars Brother Jack McDuff and J.J. Jackson, amongst others. Signed on by Chris Blackwell, an enthusiastic early fan, to Island Records in the UK and to Capitol Records in the US, their first album, IF (1970), entered the charts in both the States (Billboard) and the UK, as well as winning a design award for its cover, and was followed that same year by IF 2, also released on Island and Capitol.

The albums IF 3 (1971) and IF 4 aka "Waterfall" (1972) were accompanied by heavy touring schedules in the States and Europe, especially in Britain and Germany, where the band appeared on TV (BBC's Top of the Pops/Old Grey Whistle Test in the UK and one of their tracks was used as a signature tune for the news in Germany). Finally, in the summer of 1972, the band had to come off the road in the middle of a US tour when Dick Morrissey was admitted to hospital for major surgery. As a result of the break-up, the band members went off to work on other projects.

 If is England's answer to Chicago or the much less proggy Blood Sweat & Tears, and with no small surprise the UK answer approaches Chicago's quality and easily surpasses BS&T. But comparing If to Chicago is at best unsatisfactory and at worst is misleading: not more instrumental than Chicago (and no trumpet or trombone), If is also less of a straight brass rock outfit, and more of a real jazz rock group, often coming close to Colosseum or Brian Auger's Oblivion Express, than the pure mushy garbage R'nB of BS&T or Electric Flag. The septet is based around wind players Dave Quincy and Dick Morrissey, the main songwriters. The original line-up on this album will remain unchanged much like their US alter-ego Chicago for quite a while.
Starting out on the absolutely delightful Reaching Out On All Sides (also issued as a single), the group shows a real knack for writing inventive jazzy tunes that have a rock edge, while making it interesting for demanding music fans. All Sides comes with a good searing guitar solo, underlined by Mealing's organ, then the saxes come in a very Heckstallian fashion. Hodgkinson's voice is fairly close to Chicago's singer. The lengthy instrumental About The Box is probably the A-side's highlight, with Morrissey's flute drawing a long solo before the two saxes cut away in a Heckstall manner, allowing for Smith's guitar to wallow much like Clempson's did. This second track is probably the most Colosseum-like of the album. Rounding off the first side is the 7-mins What Can A Friend Say, which boasts a very brassy rhythm'n blues, in this case reminiscent of Chicago or The Flock, but boasting yet another stellar electric guitar.

The flipside is made of four shorter tracks, with the rapid 100 mph soul number "Woman, Can You See?" track, where the repeating sax riffs and chorus and a sizzling solo of the same instrument. Conscious Mind did not steal its name, as it is easily the easiest track on the album, this being the attempt at mass exposure via the single. Best forgotten if you ask me. Dockland is a strange and slow (almost doomy) track, which seem to emphasize dark atmospheres, but Smith's guitar is again the main solo instrument, again a bit reminiscent of Hiseman's tribe. The closing Promised Land is an upbeat funky track that contains plenty of intricate arrangements, but cannot escape a pop feel, but positively said. The bonus tracks are no added value as they are the single version of two album tracks, therefore only adding a déjà-entendu feel.

Recently, Repertoire records just re-issued the first two in a mini-lp format, and I only wish they'd get the license to do the same with the next two, but whether this is likely is difficult to say since the first two were issued on Island records, while the next two were on United Artists. In either case, this first album is an absolute must for those wanting to find the perfect link between brass-rock (since If did not have brass instrument proper, but woodwind instruments) and jazz-rock.

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