I was first introduced to the name Chris McGregor through seeing a set of his works played by a group of University Music students - not knowing at the time a thing about whose music was being played. At the close of their set they played a wild and winding 15-minute piece. It utterly entranced me. Its energy was sublime; unfolding powerfully with snakelike basslines, screeching saxophones and stern, regimented brass- all laid over a litany of African rhythms, inexhaustible in inventiveness. Its brilliance urged me to speak with the conductor after the set and ask whether there were recordings of this bandleader - this track in particular - on CD. He told me the name of the track, 'Dakar', and the album album, Country Cooking. So I noted it down, expecting later to find some blogger online who had this rare item.
I couldn't find it anywhere, however. 'Chris McGregor' search results were limited and were mainly about the the Brotherhood of Breath's excellent self-titled debut, which was given a CD re-release earlier in the decade. There was no hint of a re-release for the rest of the McGregor catalogue, however. I searched for a long time, presuming music this good couldn't be out of reach of the entire internet, but it took a good few months before I found someone in the USA with an old library copy. After £20 and a month waiting on air-mail it arrived!
So anyway, I'm happy to finally share such a rare item. The album is really a lost gem. It's timeless in sound; soulful, spirit-lifting music that's classy and Ellingtonian one moment, and then raucously wild the next. The band's Free Jazz experimentation is played down considerably on this recording, which is a disappointment because the strong melodic backbone of the his music is only improved when the Brotherhood are allowed some creative space to challenge these structures - as evidenced by earlier live recordings. I would love to hear some live variation on 'Dakar', but I've only been able to find live shows from earlier in the (not lofty) height of their notoriety: early to mid seventies.
Nevertheless, the album is dense, complex and full of personality, despite it's polished sheen. The album opens with the gentle and playful title track. Blissful woodwind romance on 'Bakwetha' meets abruptly with dizzy, swaggering horns on 'Sweet as Honey', laid over a sensitive Bill Evans-esque piano. 'You And Me (Sejui)' flits between funky, determined horn stabs and celebratory instrumental conversations. 'Big G' chugs along with a locomotive drive, occasionally spiraling into dramatic suspensions over spasmodic double-bass twiddling. 'Maxine', with it's romance and Garbarek-esque saxophone, reminds me a lot of Keith Jarrett's European Quartet at it's best, but with the richness of a Big Band orchestra. The album ends with 'Dakar', which, despite my complaints, is a downright important piece of music that would be a standard if there were any justice. @256
1. Country Cooking
3. Sweet As Honey
4. You And Me (Sejui)
5. Big G