Monday, June 11, 2018

New Jazz Orchestra - 1969 - Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe

New Jazz Orchestra
Le Dejeuner Sur L'herbe

01. Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
02. Naïma
03. Angle
04. Ballad
05. Dusk Fire
06. Nardis
07. Study
08. Rebirth

Neil Ardley: director
Jack Bruce: bass
Jon Hiseman: drums
Dave Gelly: Tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Jim Philip: Tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
Dick Heckstall-Smith: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Barbara Thompson: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute
Derek Wadswort: trombone
John Mumford: trombone
Michael Gibbs: trombone
Tony Russell: trombone
Henry Lowther: trumpet
Harry Beckett: trumpet
Derek Watkins: trumpet
Ian Carr: trumpet, flugelhorn
George Smith: tuba
Frank Ricottiv: ibraphone, marimba

This is the second and also the last formal album by the seminal British Jazz Orchestra called New Jazz Orchestra or NJO for short. Directed by the legendary composer / arranger / bandleader Neil Ardley the NJO was probably the most important singular British Jazz ensemble, which shaped the way British and European Jazz developed in the late 1960s.

Despite the fact that the number of people, who are familiar with this epic recording, will hardly fill up an average British pub, it is still one of the best and more importantly revolutionary Jazz albums of all times, certainly as far as British Jazz is concerned. The fact that the album, which was released on LP in 1969 and almost immediately after disappeared from the shelves, had to wait for 45 years for its debut CD reissue confirms its anonymity and obscurity. And yet for the handful of British Jazz enthusiasts it always was the magnum opus of the British Jazz resurgence, when the music emerged for the first time as a truly new Art form, related to but fully independent from the American Jazz tradition.

Why "new"? The origin of the name is not entirely clear but NJO was new indeed; it included a new generation of British Jazz musicians, which arrived on the scene mostly in the 1960s and had very little in common with the older "swing" generation, which completely dominated the British scene up to that period, and which was entirely immersed in the American tradition, strengthened by the presence of American bands in Britain during the WWII period. Several Jazz Big Bands and orchestras were active on the British scene since the 1920s and well into the 1960s, some quite excellent and even extraordinary, but those limited the artistic scope to imitating the trends originating across the big pond. The list of British composers / bandleaders includes Ted Heath, Syd Lawrence, John Dankworth and numerous others.

By the time this album was recorded the NJO was about five years old. In 1965 it recorded its debut album called "Western Reunion London 1965", which beautifully sums up the first phase of its activity, when the orchestra performed mostly new arrangements of American standards, but the overall sound of the band was already quite unique and stunning. This album was recorded by the second incarnation of the NJO, which included Jack Bruce on bass (who was already a member of Cream at the time), with the regular bassist Tony Reeves taking the position of the album's producer. The rest of the band included: trumpeters Derek Watkins, Harry Lowther, Harry Beckett and Ian Carr, trombonists John Mumford, Michael Gibbs, Derek Wadsworth and Tony Russell, tuba player George Smith, saxophonists Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Jim Philip and Dick Heckstall-Smith, vibraphonist Frank Ricotti and drummer Jon Hiseman.

The album presents eight compositions, five of which are originals composed by NJO members or other British Jazz musicians / composers of the new generation; those are Neil Ardley, Howard Riley, Mike Taylor, Michael Garrick and Michael Gibbs. Two modern American Jazz standards, one by John Coltrane and another one by Miles Davis are also present, but their arrangements are stunningly removed from the original versions known to most Jazz listeners. The remaining composition is by the French composer of Polish / Jewish origin Alexandre Tansman, whose composition receives another highly unusual treatment.

The album emerges triumphantly as a masterpiece of composition, arrangement, performance and intelligent music making, all those on top of its being a first of its kind and a beacon for generations to come. Many other superb Big Band / Orchestral British Jazz recordings will follow (Michael Gibbs, Mike Westbrook and others), but as great as they were, none of them achieved the same primordial perfection, which marked the birth of British Jazz as documented herein.

If anybody wanders about the album's title (and the title of the opening track) and its humorous sleeve design, Google it up, oh ye ignoramuses, or preferably visit the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and look for the original ;)

With the recent parting of Jack Bruce, whom I was honored and lucky to know in person, the reissue of this album is a small solace in his memory and in memory of a generation almost gone…

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