Monday, July 12, 2010

Fusion Week: Nucleus

This week JazzWrap will take a look at some of the important (sometimes forgotten) groups that have helped shape and expand jazz fusion, prog and jazz rock over the last 40 years.

Nucleus (group; formed 1969 - disbanded 1983)

Original Lineup: Ian Carr (trumpet) Chris Speeding (guitar) Brian Smith (sax) Karl Jenkins (electric piano) John Marshall (drums) Jeff Clyne (bass)

Formed surprising around the same time as prog legends King Crimson, Nucleus utilized jazz as their platform for experimentation. Guided by the deft hand of Ian Carr on trumpet, Nucleus would quickly catapult into the public eye through a series of live show culminating at the Montreaux Jazz Festival 1970. Nucleus started as Sextet and will evolve to various sizes over the course of two decades plus. The group would features such future jazz luminaries as Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Chris Speeding (guitar), Alan Holdsworth (guitar), Tony Levin (drums), Norma Winstone (vocals) among others.

Nucleus could be called one of the British reactions to Miles Davis' series of electric fusion records from 69 - 71 (In A Silent Way, Flies de Kilamajaro, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson). The mystical, ethereal approach Miles had captured on the aforementioned records seemed to have had some effect of Ian Carr and his fellow band members.

Don't think that Nucleus were just some Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Tony Williams clones. NO! Nucleus took things one step further by fusing and stretching the idea of jazz and rock into a melodic journey with some funky yet highly improvised stops along the way. The music was first and foremost a jazz sextet that beautifully synced up well together. They also had a level of psychedelic brilliance that outside of what was going on in Germany (e.g. Can, Kraftwerk, Neu, Amon Duul) and America (Miles, Headhunters, Mahavishnu, Weather Report) at the time, was completely different in the UK. Also of note, some members would later join the other important British jazz rock band Soft Machine.

Nucleus released its first two albums, Elastic Rock (Vertigo; 1970) and We'll Talk About it Later (Vertigo; 1970) to monumental raves. The blistering work by Speeding on guitar, magical intoxication of Jenkins on keyboards and Carr's mastery on trumpet pull you kicking and screaming into the soundscape they have just constructed. Songs like "Elastic Rock," "1916," "We'll Talk About It Later" and the bombastically funky "Song for a Bearded Lady" are excellent statements of the early era of the band. Definite must listens for fans of Miles Davis, Can, Mahavishnu, et al.

Nucleus would record another 8 albums over the next two decades with various lineups. All of which are quite good and tend to get a little more funky as guitars and keyboards started to dominate the outings. Their is an extremely (and I mean extremely) great but hard to find compilation of their first six album for Vertigo called Direct Hits, that is well worth checking out. I don't have one but I would love a copy if anyone has one (yes, I'm begging).

Recently, there has been a series of live CDs spanning almost each configuration of the bands existence. Obviously the bulk of them cover the 70 - 71 lineup but each is still worth taking a listen. If you can't find these at record stores. I have seen them available for download at Amazon and iTunes. My personal favourites are Hemispheres: Live In Europe 1970/71 (Hux Records). It's got excellent sound quality and features and awesome version of "...Bearded Lady" and a Miles/Hancock scattered funk of "Snakeships Dream".

The other favourite is UK Tour '76 (MLP) is another soundboard recording and features a much later lineup dominated by keyboardist, Geoff Castle, guitarist, Ken Shaw and saxophonist, Bob Bertles, whom all stir up some nice fierce funk throughout this date. UK Tour '76 was recorded at what would be the end of Nucleus as a group (recorded during the tour for their final album Alleycat) as Ian Carr would also assume the Nucleus name more as a solo artist with guest musicians.

Nucleus never wanted to be compared to Miles' bands but fortunately or unfortunately they are. But that should not lessen the opportunity for you to check them out. Nucleus hold a strong place in the development of jazz fusion during the 70s and its important the story is continually told.

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