Make a Jazz Noise Here: Ian Carr's Nucleus
Elastic Rock/We'll Talk About It Later
Solar Plexus/Belladonna
Labyrinth/Roots

[all BGO reissues]

I'd been looking forward to these two-LPs-on-one-CD reissues from BGO. Ian Carr is probably best known these days as Miles Davis' biographer, but in the early Seventies he was man of the moment as far as jazz-rock was concerned. Coming out of modern jazz, taking on board the ´new directions in music' Miles had created (or perhaps conjecturing new directions from what Miles had done before? Carr disputes the influence of Miles), and teaming up trumpet, sax and oboe with with electric bass and keyboards, plus the obligatory drummer, Nucleus was a peculiar hybrid, with more emphasis on jazz and ensemble brass riffing than on rock per se. It's this constant ensemble riffing - horns massed in unison or counterpoint - that marrs this stuff for me; that, and the ting, ting, ting of the cymbals. (What is it with drummers?)

The electric keyboards are great, the bass is loose and funky, and Ian Carr sure could - and did - play a mean trumpet solo, but all too often the music returns to this rather uptight honking. It never quite hangs loose, it's never as dirty a sound as, say, Soft Machine - I don't think Nucleus ever really took on board the idea of rock or were part of the counterculutre of the time, they were too busy being musicians and exploring tunes and ideas. If anything it set the tone for the bad end of both prog-rock and jazz-rock, neither of which I've got anything against when done well. But Nucleus seem too concerned with being serious, apart from the LP covers you simply wouldn't know it had just been the Sixties - or at least it sounds that way to me.

Best of this bunch (and there are two other CD available, each, like these, with two original albums on) is Elastic Rock and We'll Talk About it Later, where Karl Jenkins does his keyboard stuff, as he would do for later Soft Machine; Chris Spedding at least gets some electric guitar breaks in when given the chance; and John Marshall is the cymbal-clinker. By the time of Solar Plexus and Belladonna it's made explicit who the boss is: ´Ian Carr + Nucleus' declares the former, whilst the latter is just accredited to Ian Carr. But both see a bigger ensemble at work, rather than a band, with many jazz names contributing, including Kenny Wheeler, Roy Babbington, Harry Beckett and Allan Holdsworth, with Jon Hiseman producing Belladonna. The music, if anything, is even more uptight and arranged, everything held in check when you long for it to break out and make a noise, get excited about something... anything, in fact.

´Ian Carr's Nucleus' made Labyrinth and Roots, and they are even worse: dull, earnest records, with only the former occasionally enlivened by the wonderful voice of Norma Winstone. It was made in 1973 and this stuff was everywhere: the sound of music made by musicians far, far away from what was going on around them. Music that thought it was exploratory and innovative, when actually it was just self-indulgent rambling. Elsewhere the likes of King Crimson were pushing the boundaries of rock, pub rock was just about starting up before mutating into punk, dance music was alive and well, as was improvised music, and Soft Machine, Gong, Henry Cow and many other bands were showing just what could be done if you tried. And of course, Ian Carr's hero, Miles Davis was upsetting everyone as he tried to incorporate Stockhausen and Sly Stone into his funked-up jazz sound. It wouldn't be clear for a long time just how successful he'd been, or how so much else just doesn't hold up any more in comparison.


© 2003 Rupert Loydell


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