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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MARTIN DREW BAND /
TONY LEE

British Jazz Artists Vol. 3 /
Street of Dreams

Vocalion CDSML 8462

 

 


British Jazz Artists Vol. 3
1. No More Blues
2. Re-Rev
3. A Child is Born
4. Strut Your Stuff
5. Another Star
6. Steelbender
7. Easy Life
8. Sound Down

Martin Drew - Drums
John Taylor - Piano
Ron Mathewson - Acoustic bass, bass guitar
Bill Le Sage - Vibes
Brian Smith - Soprano sax, tenor sax
Chris Fletcher - Percussion (tracks 1, 4, 5, 7)

Street of Dreams
1. Li’l Darlin’
2. Loss of Love
3. Street of Dreams
4. Dick’s Mood
5. Love for Sale
6. My Funny Valentine
7. On Green Dolphin Street

Tony Lee - Piano
Tony Archer - Bass
Martin Drew - Drums
Tony Uter - Congas

 

After the Second World War, British rhythm sections - and especially drummers - got a reputation for stodginess. This certainly seemed justified when some British rhythm sections were contrasted with the light airiness of their American equivalents. It took a while for this notoriety to be undermined and eventually dismissed, thanks to the work of such evidently talented drummers as Phil Seamen and Martin Drew. Martin was good enough to be chosen to play in the Oscar Peterson Trio - a notoriously competitive environment, in which Drew built up a strong reputation for technique and rhythmic drive.

Those qualities are already audible in the first CD of this double album. It is a reissue of a 1977 album in which Martin was joined by a stellar line-up of British jazzmen. The tunes were arranged by Bill Le Sage, a highly experienced vibist-cum-pianist. He sticks to the vibes here, leaving the piano role to John Taylor, another of Britain's finest.

The CD opens with a propulsive version of No More Blues, which includes a well-recorded double bass solo from Ron Mathewson and the first of some dynamic drum solos from Martin Drew. Brian Smith's soprano sax sounds rather sour in Milt Jackson's Re-Rev but John Taylor contributes a shimmering piano solo and Bill Le Sage adds a well-constructed solo on the vibes. Brian Smith repairs his reputation with some tender tenor sax on A Child is Born, which also benefits from a thoughtful vibes solo by Le Sage.

Strut Your Stuff is a groovy funk number. John Taylor switches to electric piano for Another Star - one of Stevie Wonder's many catchy compositions - with good vibes from Bill Le Sage, who also excels in the following blues, Steelbender. Tom Scott's Easy Life is marred by Brian Smith's dubious intonation on soprano sax but it is rescued by another educated solo from Bill Le Sage. Smith again utters somewhat tortured cries in the concluding Sound Down but Ron Mathewson's double bass sounds splendid in his unaccompanied solo, which John Taylor eventually joins for some out-of-tempo games. If British rhythm sections were once scorned, there is nothing to criticise about the piano, bass and drums here. Ron Mathewson's sinewy bass is particularly good at underpinning every track.

Like Martin Drew, pianist Tony Lee could challenge the Americans at their own game. The opening track of the second CD (recorded in 1979) shows how much he learnt from the likes of Oscar Peterson, and an unaccompanied section pays a clear debt to Art Tatum. He takes a daring step by playing Li'l Darlin' at a much faster tempo than Count Basie's original but it works surprisingly well - and he throws in a new riff between each section of the tune. His two-fisted approach was indubitably stimulating, and the excitement is ably reinforced by Martin Drew and bassist Tony Archer.

Lee plays electric piano on Loss of Love, a neglected Henry Mancini ballad, and Tony's debt to the Americans is manifest in Street of Dreams, which could easily be mistaken for a performance by Erroll Garner. Tony Uter's generally unnecessary conga drums even remind one of the period when Garner superfluously augmented his trio with a conga player, as if he couldn't produce enough rhythm on his own!

Dick's Mood is an original blues by Tony Lee, which seems to fuse the styles of both Garner and Peterson. Love for Sale is taken as a fast Latin samba, displaying Lee's dexterity. He starts My Funny Valentine meditatively on electric piano but then turns it into a fastish number on acoustic piano, with more Peterson echoes. On Green Dolphin Street similarly starts slowly but you can feel certain that it is going to turn into something more vigorous - which it does, with an interesting bass line added beneath the melody.

With two CDs for around a tenner, this is a bargain - as well as proof that British jazz was still alive and kicking in the seventies. Thank you, Dutton Vocalion.

Tony Augarde



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