ALAN SKIDMORE — Once Upon a Time... (review)

ALAN SKIDMORE — Once Upon a Time... album cover Album · 1970 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
Skidmore was a usual fixture on the London jazz scene, having played with almost everyone more or less involved in the late-60’s cauldron, and for a while he even fronted his own quintet that featured some rather heavy names, like Wheeler (trumpet) and Taylor (piano). To my knowledge, this AS Quintet only recorded this one album in 70, but then again, looking at the composition dept, Alan was apparently not much of a songwriter as one of six tracks is his own, and it’s more of a free-jazz non-tune. Indeed buddy John Surman, the group catalyser (but not member) wrote two tracks, while pianist Taylor and drummer Oxley signed another each.

Opening on the Surman-penned 7-mins title track, the album is off to a cool standard-y start written for and about Skidmore’s baby daughter (featured on artwork) Alice, but Taylor’s piano is giving the track a little extra flavour. The following Majaera is a discordant non-tune, which would’ve best been thrown at the end of the album. The atypical (for then) Taylor piece The Yolk is a fast and furious standard-y jazz piece, where Wheeler Skids-more all over the track at 100MPH.

The highlight of the album is the almost 12-mins Old San Juan, written by a young Canadian composer (as is Kenny Wheeler), an epic track with plenty of tempo change and a tad of Spanish influence, where Taylor’s piano is simply astounding (sometimes reminiscent of Tyner), while Wheeler finds his ease in Aranjuez or in a Spaghetti-Western movie. While Skidmore’s Free For All is self-explanatory and segues directly from the Juan piece, the closing Surman piece Image is much slower, but just as dissonant or free (at least in its start), but finishes in an accessible manner…

A relatively uneven album, which is kind of saved by the 12-mins epic opening the flipside, because if it wasn’t for that and the title-track, we’d be tempted to add to the album’s title: “… there was nothing”. Reissued on the Vocalion CD batch of 2005, this is a somewhat interesting album, but I can think of some much better in that series of reissues.

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