Reunion bands are something of a particular breed found within the taxonomy of jazz groups. By and large, they are put together in the hopes of rekindling memories of times past. One example of this is the quintet of British pianist Peter Lemer. While this short-lived group, circa 1966, did not exactly write history in any decisive way, it acquired something of a legendary status with the passage of time. In its brief existence, it managed to record a single album that circuitously made its way to the ESP-DISK label (a story Lemer recounts in an enlightening YouTube video interview, and well worth the watch).
Of its cast members, John Surman has made the most enduring impression on the jazz world, owing much of that to his decades-long association with the ECM label. Notwithstanding that collaboration, few can dispute the claim that he is second to none in mastering that unwieldy beast of his, the baritone saxophone (ever hear him fluff a note in the altissimo register?) Drummer John Hiseman and bassist Tony Reeves also acquired a degree of notoriety within the Brit Prog Rock/Fusion movement (remember Colosseum?). Lemer (pronounced Lee-mer, if you did not know) also got involved in that circle, without ever climbing up to the top echelons. Of the originals, only tenor saxophonist George Khan slid into obscurity, apparently having had a foot of his run over by a car several years ago and disabling him since. As for the album, it was the outcome of a string of Monday night gigs at the old premises of Ronnie Scott's club, which ran parallel to its new one until the expiry of its lease.
Flash forward to 2018: All but Khan reunite at Pizza Express, the most prominent jazz den of the British capital... after Ronnie Scott's place, of course. Subbing for the ailing tenor is Alan Skidmore, a notable stylist in the Coltrane bag, the four originals still all alive and well (and very much kicking) on this date. In hindsight, this one-night stand on Feb. 18, 2018, turned out to be a godsend because of Hiseman's sudden passing a few months later. That four of the five originals could gather again after a half century plus is a pretty remarkable feat, to say the least (can you think of a band with a longer time gap between gigs?).
To record this event for posterity was almost a no-brainer, and the fact that it comes out on a new incarnation of the same label as the first, makes it even more special, if not outright serendipitous. Lemer and consorts revisit all but one of the pieces heard on the original LP (The City being the odd man out). Added to this 69-minute program are Coltrane's "Impressions" and "Big Dick", one of seven originals by the pianist. Interestingly, the opening cut "Ciudad Enahenado" was the closer of the 1966-side (the title on that one using only the second word). This new version that clocks in just under ten minutes is much more developed than the original, which ran but 3 minutes, its duration constrained by the limitation of the vinyl format. Next is the opening cut of the original album, Carla Bley's Ictus, a short but dense thematic line that acts like a springboard for free wheeling solos. Between this and the Coltrane tune, the group revisits "Flowville" and "Carmen", the latter a ballad-like piece where Surman plays baritone rather than bass clarinet, as was the case in the original version. Rounding off the set are "URH" and "In The Out", the former a Surman feature demonstrating his greatness on the big horn, the latter producing the most heated moments, the pianist spinning out his best solo of the evening. One small quibble is the Coltrane tune that comes off like a parade of solos over a tic toc beat.
When comparing both albums, it is apparent that the first effort was that of young musicians barely in their twenties and pushing their limits to the brink; now with half a century of good playing experiences under their belts, they have far more means to make the music happen from the first downbeat onward. And what pleasure it is to hear Surman wailing again (like in his trio days with Phillips and Martin), setting aside the almost new-agey stuff he's pursued on his ECM albums (but to whom this album would not have come about without the permission of its head, Manfred Eicher, to momentarily release him from his contractual obligations). Both Reeves and Heisman are given more solo spots, which was not the case way way back when, as the horns dominated the proceedings. What's more, today's recording technologies enhance the listening experience, allowing more depth and definition of the instrumental sounds, the rhythm section in particular. Regardless, if you own, or have heard the original, this Son Of is an exciting reprise thanks to the performers' will to pick up where they left off, as if hardly a day had gone by since their original run. No mean feat.
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