The Antichrist of Jazz Noodlers
RON ASPERY 1943-2003. Saxophonist, Flautist, Pianist & Composer
Some musical pairings seem to encapsulate high spots in artists' careers. I'm thinking of jazzers, I suppose, like Coltrane and Tyner, Ornette and Don Cherry, I suppose, but also of Stan Tracey and Mike Osborne, Dudu Pukwana and Mongesi Feza among others. These particular duos have all been brought to mind by the fact that the mighty pairing of saxophonist Ron Aspery with bassist Colin Hodgkinson will not be heard again. They formed the original nucleus which, with the addition of that exceptional drummer, Tony Hicks, became Back Door the band that first played in a small pub on the North Yorkshire moors then were catapulted to fame, supporting Chick Corea as well as touring and recording in the USA. Though fame for a band that played an unfashionable mixture of jazz and delta blues was never going to last you can't ever eradicate talent however capricious the music business may be.

So, Back Door enjoyed a revival over the last couple of years , with some of their BBC radio sessions from the 1970s appearing thanks to Hux Records. But the release of ´Askin The Way' on the Cultural Foundation label this summer showed that the band, reunited, had lost none of their collective fire and vitality. Aspery is at his best, combining lyricism with a sometimes keening, acerbic tone. On one track ´Spare Me The Tears' he simply makes the saxophone sing, so pure and vocal is the tone. His playing was always gutsy and drenched in both blues and jazz but some of my favourite moments were when he let his melodic side show. Tracks like ´Askin The Way', ´Hurlingham Down' and ´Folksong' are especially haunting. Nevertheless, ´Slivadiv', a completely different shot of raucous energy, also continues to float my boat. And Aspery's soloing was constantly a model of economy and invention, he was, without doubt, the Antichrist of noodling jazz ´artists' everywhere. He could say more in a couple of minutes than others in a couple of albums.

There is no way I can imagine an incarnation of Back Door without him so I would guess it is the end of the band but if you haven't heard them then try to get hold of either of the cds I've mentioned. He was a rare talent and will be much missed.

© 2003Paul Donnelly

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