Monday, March 21, 2016

Blake Babies: Mike Westbrook at 80

All right, welcome to Monday! It's World Poetry Day, and it's also a milestone birthday for a milestone bandleader, notable for his musical settings of legendary poems. So it appears we have ourselves a confluence!
The Silver Fox in the picture is Mike Westbrook. If you're not a British Jazz cultist like I am, you likely have never heard of him. That's too bad, but it's never too late.
He's been at the forefront of UK Jazz since the mid-1960s and this year celebrates his 50th anniversary of recording as a leader. Perhaps his hallmark, signature project, since the early 1970s, has been the setting of the writings of the seminal English romantic poet William Blake to his particular brand of sonorous, sweeping and occasionally extremely funky Big Band Jazz.
He initiated the Blake project in the 1970s and it at first culminated with the 1980 LP Bright As Fire: The Westbrook Blake, one of my all-time favorite recordings by anyone ever. In subsequent years the idea hit such a popular nerve around the world that he expanded and re-recorded it in 1997, touring to sold out houses with it in 1997 and 1998.
There had been a smaller tour around the original LP, but no recording of it had ever circulated until recently, when Kulturradio in Europe rebroadcast, via digital stream, a full performance of the entire suite recorded for WDR radio at the Berliner Jazztage in 1980. In other words, what Blake might have termed A Grail of Albion.
Like I said I adore this record and this idea, and this tape is as gorgeous a rendering of it as surely can exist, so in honor of this impeccable Maestro's 80th birthday today, it is this recording -- slightly cleaned up by me -- that I bring you today.
Mike Westbrook & the Westbrook Blake
Berliner Jazztage
Berlin, Germany

01 announcement by Michael Naura
02 Glad Day
03 London Song
04 Let the Slave
05 Poison Tree
06 Cradle Song
07 Holy Thursday
08 The Fields
09 I See the Form
10 9 July 1979

Total time: 1:09:21

Mike Westbrook - piano, tuba
Phil Minton - trumpet, vocals
Malcolm Griffiths - trombone
Kate Westbrook - tenor-horn, piccolo, vocals
Alan Wakeman - tenor & soprano saxophones, flute
Chris Biscoe - alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet
Brian Godding - guitar
Georgie Born - cello
Steve Cook - bass
Dave Barry - drums
lyrics by William Blake

digital capture of Kulturradio stream, cleaned up slightly by me
This will fill your Monday mind with mellifluousness, trust me.... it also funks hard for a good deal of the time. Pull it down and familiarize, if you're not already, with what makes Mike Westbrook one of my favorite musicians ever, and puts these William Blake-themed records among my Desert Island Discs. And of course we wish him another 80 years of life as musically generous and exploratory as the first 80 have been. Happy Birthday to him, and Happy Poetry Day!--J.