GRAHAM COLLIER — Charles River Fragments (review)

GRAHAM COLLIER — Charles River Fragments album cover Live album · 1996 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Sean Trane
One of Collier’s last works (so far) is also one of his most impressive and certainly one of my fave. A BBC Radio 3 commissioned project for the London Jazz Festival of 94 and dedicated to Charles Mingus (he had English roots as well). Actually Collier wrote and directed the piece, but he doesn’t play on it, but there is nevertheless a real impressive guest list with people like John Marshall, Henri Lowther, Ed Speight, and Art Themen, just to name a few out of the 14 participants, called the Jazz Ensemble. The album first opens up on separate tune from the CRF work, with the almost 10-mins Hackney Five, a piece that can honestly be taken as a perfectly-suited appetizer to the main course coming up.

The monster 56-mins Charles River fragments makes the rest of the album, and a splendid piece it is…. If the word big band jazz ever scares you, because you’re not in the Goodman-Miller and Ellington frame of mind (the case of yours truly), don’t be afraid of this project: 14 men is not that big a band, and 10 of them are reed or nozzle men (woods & brass respectively), often acting as a discreet and un-intrusive horn section behind the great soloing (and sometimes improvising) lead horns, namely Fraser’s trombone, Waterman & Lowther’s trumpets while the four saxmen alternate at the forefront. Of course the whole project wouldn’t be worth a penny if it wasn’t for the extra-ordinary John Marshall’s (of Nucleus and Soft Machine fame) splendid drumming, holding up the whole shebang almost single-handedly. Obviously being a long-time Collier collab, Graham knew Marshall would hold up to the challenge. In terms of composition, it is rather clear that the main body of the piece is clearly aimed at Mingus, and the result is clearly a compliment to Charles. Well at one point (around the 40-mins-mark) the mood is indeed for a more traditional big band mood, but it sure comes out of it to go slightly dissonant territory (the last sax interventions) to end gracefully and leaving with a full belly (read ear) and the impression of a gourmet meal.

Certainly a very interesting album, from a fascinating composer who’s dabbled in many areas of jazz, and produced some stunning work, this ones coming close to belonging to the upper quarter of his discography.

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