Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Peter Lemer Quintet - 1968 - Local Colour

Peter Lemer Quintet
Local Colour

01. Ictus 6:52
02. City 7:38
03. Flowville 7:30
04. In The Out 9:20
05. Carmen 10:35
06. Enahenado 2:50

Nisar Ahmad Khan: tenor saxophone
John Surman: baritone saxophone, soprano saxophone
Peter Lemer: piano
Tony Reeves: bass
Jon Hiseman: drums

Recorded 1966 in London

British pianist Peter Lemer studied with Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, and Bill Dixon, so his roots in jazz are strong. His lengthy and distinguished career has found him in a wide variety of settings. As an avant-garde jazz pianist, he recorded with Spontaneous Music Ensemble; in the jazz fusion realm, he was a member of Gilgamesh and Paraphernalia; as a progressive rock keyboardist, he played with Gong, Baker Gurvitz Army, the Mike Oldfield Group, Seventh Wave, and In Cahoots. Sideman credits include work with Annette Peacock, Harry Beckett, and more.

Surprisingly, Local Colour – his debut recording – is Lemer's only album as a leader. Recorded in London in 1966, before jazz fusion or prog-rock even existed, it belongs in the collection of anyone who cares about the British jazz scene, and not only because of Lemer's talents. Everyone in this quintet went on to notable achievements. This was sax great John Surman's recording debut; he is now arguably the premiere British jazz saxophonist, with a prolific and much-praised discography. Chances to hear the also scintillating sax sound of the more obscure Nisar Ahmad Khan (AKA George Khan) in a jazz context are much rarer, though prog-rock fans may remember his appearance on Robert Wyatt's Ruth Is Stranger than Richard and his work with Cream lyricist Pete Brown and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Drummer Jon (then going by John) Hiseman had already established himself on the British jazz scene by co-founding the New Jazz Orchestra in 1964; two years after the Local Colour session he started Colosseum, one of the most successful British jazz-rock bands, and he even collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the musical Cats. Bassist Tony Reeves had had a hit single in 1965 with Sounds Orchestral ("Cast Your Fate to the Wind"); after a brief stint with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Reeves joined Hiseman in Colosseum; he was also a member of Greenslade and Curved Air in addition to session work with Fairport Convention singer Sandy Denny and guitarist John Martyn.

British pianist Peter Lemer is one of the U.K. jazz scene's primary links between '60s free jazz and '70s fusion, but his sole album as a leader, recorded in 1966, sticks closely to the former. Lemer, a former student of Paul Bley, opens the set with a rattling version of Carla Bley's "Ictus," then runs through a program of originals that run from fairly "out" ("City" has some absolutely frenzied free blowing by saxophonists Nisar Ahmad Khan and John Surman, accompanied at one point by Lemer banging on the top of his piano) to relatively restrained (the melody of "Frowville" wouldn't sound out of place on a Dave Brubeck album). Although Lemer's often highly rhythmic piano playing drives the band, Khan and Surman are the stars of the album, taking most of the solos. (The bass solo comes late in "In the Out" -- have your fast-forward finger ready accordingly, but don't miss the remarkable Khan/Surman duel right after.) Even the most experimental pieces, however, keep the traditional theme-solos-theme structure, so Local Colour is the sort of album that's useful for the free jazz novice. It's just traditional enough that it's not scary, but neither is it so traditional that it's boring. It's a shame this group didn't get a chance to record more.