GRAHAM COLLIER — Darius (review)

GRAHAM COLLIER — Darius album cover Live album · 1974 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Sean Trane
Collier’s fifth album finds him reaching his creative peak with the awesome Darius project, which takes his composing skills up a few echelons on the ladder of great jazz songwriters. Indeed, if Collier’s impeccable sense of composition is easily recognizable, a big part of his album’s artistic success is how he assembles the different ingredients, most notably the musicians he chooses and how they will interact in the frame of the canvas he wrote for the project. Featuring a mix of some of the usual suspects from both his earlier albums and his next outings, we’ll find long-time collabs like Beckett, Lowther and Webb, along with newer mates like Castle (keys), Speight (el. guit) and Wadsworth (tromb).

In terms of the project, Darius is the first of Collier’s increased ambitions in terms of songwriting and Graham had created his own label Mosaic to allow himself all the freedom he wished. Mosaics would last mainly five years and Collier took full advantage of this new-found freedom from the very first release, the present Darius. Indeed, the album is mostly made up of one sole epic track, the 44-mins title track that was obviously sprawled over both sides of the vinyl, but presented on the CD as one whole uninterrupted track. Such a monster track can only dwarf its little brother, the 5-mins+ New Dawn, which has its own huge merits, but will likely to go unnoticed.

If the previous Collier works were sometimes flirting with the borders between jazz and rock, they were still quite firmly entrenched in the former idiom, much more so than Weather Report or Nucleus. But with Darius, that frontier is actually so close that the musicians often thread over the barriers, probably not always knowingly. Indeed Webb’s drumming is well in the line of what Marshall used to do for Collier and was doing in Nucleus and the same can be said for Geoff Castle and Karl Jenkins’ piano ticklings (not counting Karl’s horn activities), Geoff succeeding to Karl in Nucleus. Castle’s tasteful and outstanding Rhodes playing is one of the central foundation piece of Darius. As for Collier’s contrabass, it sometimes tends to forget to shine, but then again it is all at the music’s service rather than searching the spotlights. Up front, Speight’s electric guitar is simply excellent (reminiscent of Coryell or Spedding’s styles) and probably served as a reference to Holdsworth, Etheridge and some more later-70’s axemen in similar projects. On the horn side, while both trumpetists Lowther and Beckett are present, I haven’t really heard them playing simultaneously, part of the horn space being hogged up by the immense trombone of Wadsworth.

As usual, Collier’s music is filled with dramatic and descriptive moments and often drawing spine-chills, probably because like Ian Carr, he often writes about literary issues, in this case, the Persian king that gave the Athenians (and Greeks in general) such difficult times in Antiquity. And to pay some attention to the New Dawn, that little brother is obviously from the same bed as the Persian king that didn’t see the light of the next day. Strangely enough, we don’t miss the usually ever-present saxophone at all, partly because there is already so much to listen to already, that we’re not even noticing it.

So if you’re a fan of a certain type of early-70’s JR/F, like Nucleus, the Vitous-era Weather Report, Dean-era Soft Machine or Mwandishi, Darius will no doubt ravish you, and if you’re into more standard prog-rock, you might actually like it more than the afore-mentioned bands, because Collier’s songwriting is tighter, tidier and more structured. Well the last CD reissue of this absolute masterpiece was released in 2000 on the now-defunct Disconforme label, and I don’t see it reissued anytime soon, so you’d better run to your dealer quick and maim the people in line to grab that last copy. A little jail time will be indeed worthy in order to own this gem.

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