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Carr, Ian & Nucleus: Labyrinth/Roots (Reissue)

The Ian Carr and Nucleus parade of reissues keeps rolling out of the gate on BGO Records, and this two CD compilation of the albums Labyrinth and Roots is solid jazz fusion from the golden year of 1973.

Labyrinth was created to be somewhat of a concept album, an instrumental masterpiece telling the story of the Greek mythological character the Minotaur. With such a serious and heavy topic, Ian Carr needed to compose some equally dense music, and with virtually the same line-up as on the bands previous album Belladonna, the results are staggering. "Bull-Dance" has a huge big-band sound, littered with bombastic trumpets, clarinets, and full rock orchestra. The great pianist Gordon Beck is featured on the lovely "Adriadne", which also includes a touching but brief vocal section from Norma Winstone, complemented by gentle flute. The multi-part "Arena" is jazz rock at it's best, with spacey electric piano from Dave MacRae, nimble drum work from Tony Levin (no, not that Tony Levin!), and raging horns from Kenny Wheeler and Tony Coe on sax. The funky and symphonic "Exultation" is perhaps the CD's strongest piece, with the rock solid rhythm section of Roye Babbington on bass, Levin, Clive Thacker, and Trevor Tomkins on drums and percussion, really locked in a groove and allowing the horns, reeds, and keyboards to soar to new heights. MacRae's electric piano solo will remind you of Joe Zawinul from Miles Davis' band and Weather Report, full of melodic yet aggressive energy. The ensemble percussion solo towards the end of the piece was fun to hear, as the three players build to a furious crescendo before quietly slipping into the background to allow Babbington's bass to slowly bring the band back in for the final piece "Naxos." This part is a horn and reed tour-de-force, led by Carr and his flugelhorn. This is a real good, but very dark and moody album, with lots of dramatic elements. Fans of Bitches Brew or Jack Johnson era Miles Davis will really appreciate the stuff that Carr and Nucleus created here.

For the album Roots, Nucleus was stripped down to just eight members, and the purpose was to come up with a more personal sound, hence the whole band took a more active approach in the songwriting. The results are looser and more earthy than the previous releases. While Carr and Brian Smith's horns and woodwinds still play a central role, the addition of guitarist Jocelyn Pitchen adds an element missing from Labyrinth. The guitarist adds a gritty rock sound that meshes well with the style of pianist Dave MacRae. Carr adds some neat wah-wah to his trumpet solos on the rhythmic title track (amazing how he and Miles were doing such similar stuff at roughly the same time), while "Images" is a piece featuring the gentle vocal talents of Joy Yates and Smith's yearning flute melodies. "Caliban" is a rousing rocker led by the meaty bass riffs of Roger Sutton and thunderous drum of Clive Thacker. Pitchen lays down a nasty, screaming guitar solo here that will send chills up your spine, while Carr and Smith blast dark melodies in the background. The band moves into Weather Report territory on the bouncy "Whapatiti", with complex rhythms, upfront electric piano, and searing sax. After the moody and atmospheric "Capricorn", the band churns out the bombastic "Odokamona", filled with big wah-wah riffs from Carr's trumpet and hard rock guitar chords courtesy of Pitchen. The CD ends on a high note with "Southern Roots and Celebration" a vehicle for Dave MacRae and his electric piano as the band takes on a more laid back jazz style at the outset, before the whole line-up just burns with searing intensity at the closing.

This is quality fusion all the way, by perhaps the best British jazz-rock emsemble ever. While each album here is very different than the other, both are showcases for just how good this band was at mixing up their sound.

Added: January 12th 2003
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: BGO Records
Hits: 6380
Language: english

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