CD REVIEW: The Tubby Hayes Big Band – Rumpus

The Tubby Hayes Big Band – Rumpus
(Savage Solweig. SS-003CD. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)

This CD features the fourth iteration of the big band led by Edward Brian ‘Tubby’ Hayes, Britain’s great and tragically short lived saxophone genius. It was recorded in 1969 live in North London and represents the third release by the Savage Solweig label from Tubby Hayes’s personal tape archive, curated by Simon Spillett, a latter day British sax star and an expert on Hayes.

Interestingly this big band operates without a piano, the rhythm section instead being anchored by guitarist Louis Stewart with Spike Wells on drums and Ron Mathewson on bass. The other members of the sax section are Peter King alto, Brian Smith tenor and Harry Klein baritone. The trumpet section is equally stellar, consisting of Kenny Wheeler, Greg Bowen, Ian Hamer and Les Condon. The trombone is played by Keith Christie. Most of the arrangements are by Tubby.

This remarkable outfit cut its teeth at the Bulls Head in Barnes on April 21st 1969. Ian Hamer, among others, consider it Tubby’s best big band. But sadly it was never properly recorded at the time. The sole contemporary album which appeared (The Orchestra on Fontana) showcased it playing pop tunes of the day. What was needed was a recording of the band performing their own music and this release provides that, from a session played at the Torrington Arms in North Finchley on May 8th 1969, only the band’s second London gig.

A fierce count-off by the leader sees the big band launch into the smooth contours of Song for a Sad Lady, a Tubby Hayes original with a hip, urban West Coast sound full of sunshine. It has a seesaw melody, alternating urgency with reflection and raw, blissful sax solos — starting with a tenor excursion from Tubby — which probe the structure of the piece. The tune concludes with spiky horn clusters from Wheeler and company, receiving a rapturous welcome by the audience.

Dear Johnny B is another Hayes composition dedicated to drummer Johnny Butts who had died in a car crash in 1966. It begins as a romantic piece with streaming banners of sound, before folding into a tense, dense drum solo from Spike Wells, a recent discovery of Tubby’s who had previously only worked in small units. The tune develops as a tight spiral of modernist playing from the reeds and swift-moving section work with almost a Frank Zappa feel, culminating in relentless ensemble swing.

March Brown, composed and arranged by Ian Hamer, opens with chugging runs from Spike Wells and is a funky and soulful piece featuring a Memphis sound approach with sharp horn stabs and rich, skirling sax. Rumpus by Tubby is a high energy bop piece in the classic Gillespie mode, throwing salt peanuts to the audience before opening into a complex cloud of a mid section which is reminiscent of the energetic traffic jam of Mingus’s A Foggy Day in London Town. The tune concludes with a return to the Salt Peanuts quotation.

You Know I Care is a Duke Pearson composition arranged by Harry South which conjures up memories of But Beautiful and it certainly is a beauty, a tender ballad played with caressing care by Hayes which also delves into some furious and exploratory sax before returning to the exquisitely poised melody, chiselled out of the air with great precision by Hayes. Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps to Heaven is a meticulously breakneck exercise with pulsing California-style guitar from Louis Stewart and plenty of elbow room for the trumpet section under Wheeler. The amusingly titled The Inner Splurge, another Tubby original, is a free-form workout featuring notable loping playing by Stewart which keeps things real.

This is a crucial representation of a milestone British big band. The recording isn’t audiophile quality but it more than serves the purpose, especially when Tubby Hayes is close to the microphone. And it comes with splendid, extensive and informative liner notes from Simon Spillett, who is one of the prime movers behind the project to document and preserve the work of Tubby Hayes. His biography of the great man is due out soon. Speed the day.

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