Confront Core Series / Core 33

Alan Skidmore (tenor & soprano saxophones, drums, percussion) with Jimmy Skidmore, Humphrey Lyttleton Band, Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated, Weather Report, Elvin Jones, Kenny Wheeler, John Surman Österreichische Rundfunksender Big Band, Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR, Tenor Tonic, Colin Towns’ Mask Symphonic… and others.

Full personnel details at the end of the review

Saxophonist Alan Skidmore is a national treasure, and sadly in danger of neglect. That is until the appearance of this beautifully packaged and detailed box set.

On the back of the box that houses the magnificent music within, producer Mark Wastell asks “How do you represent a seven-decade career in only six CDs?” Well, the simple answer is you can’t, but Wastell has had a good go at it and in the process unearthed a cornucopia of previously unreleased material.

Skidmore’s discography is hardly bursting at the seams, but the decision to focus on radio, concert and studio recording from the saxophonist’s private archive is a sound one.

Over the course of the six CDs and forty-six tracks only eight have been selected from albums recorded for Spot Records, ITM, Provocateur Records and Miles Music.

With such a rich resource at his disposal and the assistance of Alan Skidmore it must still have been a difficult task to choose what to include, and even tougher in having to discard others.

However, the music that has found its way into the boxset is a remarkable body of work that features many of the great names in British jazz and beyond, and the depth and commitment of the saxophonist to his craft.

Many saxophonists have professed their indebtedness to John Coltrane, most just paying lip service and unable to get to the heart of the music, but few have dedicated their playing career to understanding Coltrane’s technique and more importantly his message.

Even fewer have done so as convincingly as Skidmore and managed to forge their own unique take on Coltrane’s methods. What Skidmore has achieved is even more remarkable when listening to the music here and realising that there is no slavish copying, but a genuine desire to absorb and take the music forward and to do so in one’s own original voice.

The story begins when one opens the box and is confronted with Chapter 1 and the opportunity to hear the young Skidmore playing in a two tenor quartet with his father, Jimmy 1961.

These formative years were so important for the young saxophonist and is it fascinating to hear his playing with Alexis Korner and the brief ‘Skid’s Kid’ with the Humphrey Lyttleton Big Band which was stuffed full of some of the most influential young UK musicians of the Sixties.

By the end of the disc Skidmore is leading his own quintet featuring such luminaries as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Harry Miller and Tony Oxley.

From here on in it is impossible to discuss in detail all the music presented, but rather pick out the highlights. The problem is there are rather a lot of highlights too, and these also tend to change each time one dips into the set and hears new delights each time.

Chapter 2 opens with a unique performance with Skidmore, John Surman and and the Swedish trombonist, Eje Thelin who were invited to play with Weather Report in an extended line up performing a version of ‘Directions’. Written by Josef Zawinul the piece had been featured on Weather Report’s I Sing The Body Electric and also by Miles Davis. Needless to say, the ‘guests’ more than hold their own in such company in an exhilerating performance.

The ground breaking saxophone trio, SOS with Skid, Mike Osborne and John Surman get an all to brief appearance on a live version of ‘Country Dance’, and we are served a timely reminder of Skidmore’s pedigree as a drummer in a superb improvised duet with Tony Levin.

The two musicians interact with a remarkable empathy on ‘Oxford Road, B13’, never getting in each other’s way when both behind the kit, and we also get to hear Skidmore on tenor and soprano saxophone with driving percussion from Levin.

Chapter 3 feature the saxophonist in another collaborative trio with bassist Ali Haurand and Tony Oxley on drums going under the name SOH. This is another explosive band and Haurand opens ‘Dutch Dreams (Ali’s Waltz)’ with a bassline that is full toned and rhythmically powerful, lifted to greater heights by Oxley’s presence on drums.

Soprano saxophone is the horn of choice here and Skidmore gives the straight horn a substantial workout, from lyrical lines to fragmented bursts of energy over the propulsive foundation from Haurand and Oxley.

The mid-eighties found the saxophonist once again returning to the two tenor format in the short lived band, Tenor Tonic with fellow tenor player Paul Dunmall. I saw the group on numerous occasions and their firebrand music was full of intricacies despite their often full tilt approach to their music.

The quartet is heard just one number, the aptly titled ‘Modal Tonic’ and listening again to the sound of the two tenors in unison brought the memories flooding back.

It must have been a dream come true for Skidmore when he was invited by Elvin Jones to join his Jazz Machine during an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s. Skidmore must have so impressed Jones that after the first week of playing in a two tenor frontline with Sonny Fortune in a quintet that the drummer was more than happy to retain Skid’s services as the sole horn during the second week when Fortune had playing commitments elsewhere.

We share the dream with and extended workout on ‘George and Me’. The drummer’s playing is phenomenal with an easy swing that buoyed up the rhythm section and lifted the soloists, and Skid must have relished this opportunity. It certainly sounds that way here!

Moving on to Chapter Four we get to hear the saxophonist with one of his favourite trumpeters, Kenny Wheeler. With the Jazz Live Trio with drummer Pierre Favre playing Skid’s ‘Just Once’ we have another incendiary performance. The saxophonist is first out of the blocks with a blistering solo while Wheeler naturally takes a more restrained route yet his playing is full of fire.

In April 1991 a benefit night for Mike Osborne was held at London’s 100 Club and from the evening’s music there is ten minutes of music from his two colleagues from the SOS band. Skidmore and Surman, sticking to tenor and baritone respectively, bounce ideas off each in three delightful duets, their sounds perfectly blending together.

The remainder of the disc is dedicated to Skidmore’s new quartet with pianist Steve Melling recorded in 1992 and 1997. While the bass and drums axis would change over the years, Melling was in it for the long haul, and hearing how the relationship between Skid and Melling evolves over time (the quartet is to be featured in various permutations on further discs in the set) is a real treat.

Such is the variety of the music heard thus far, we should not forget the saxophonist’s dedication to John Coltrane, and Skidmore serves up a timely reminder on Chapter5 with a performance of ‘Giant Steps’ recorded at the Fleece Jazz Club in 2011.

With Steve Melling still occupying the piano stool, the quartet is rounded out with Geoff Gascoyne on bass and drummer Tony levin makes a welcome return. Known as one of Coltrane’s most difficult compositions the quartet make it sound easy. Melling’s playing is relaxed and assured, his comping is a joy to listen to and he positively eats up the changes in his solo.

Chapter 6 is all Coltrane with five compositions from the master played by Skidmore’s Quartet of Steve Melling, bassist Andy Cleyndert and Mile Levin on drums. The opening two numbers, ‘Transition’ and Chasin’ the Trane’ also feature two more tenor players in Ed Jones and Howard Cottle.

The music can often be densely populated, multi-noted saxophone solos that build to high intensity climaxes, and it is Melling again whose contribution at the piano helps keep things grounded keeping the bass and drums on track. The saxophones push the music ever onwards but never losing sight of the composition.

The story that unfolds in these chapters is rounded out with the quartet performing three of the movements from Coltrane’s masterpiece, A Love Supreme, ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’ and ‘Psalm’. It often appears to be sacrilege to hear others playing this music, but few would dispute that Alan Skidmore has earned the right to do so.

The quartet play the music with reverence, but are not overwhelmed by it either and are able to express themselves freely. Melling again is outstanding. Nowhere does he resort to Tynerisms or cliché. His solos are fluent and fluid and totally in keeping with Coltrane’s composition and his comping is second to none.

Of the saxophonist, what can one say? He is playing the music of one of the giants of the music and yet whilst Coltrane is with him in spirit, Skidmore plays with utter conviction and authority, and as he always does with his own voice.

This is a compelling and absorbing collection of music, and one that you will find yourself returning to time and time again. There is undoubtably more music in Skid’s archive, and at the risk of appearing greedy I for one would relish the opportunity to hear more. In the meantime, there is enough quality music to enjoy here as each time the box is opened it appears there are new delights to be discovered.


The Skidmore’s with Alan Haven
Jimmy Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Alan Haven (organ), unidentified (drums)
Recorded London 1961

Alexis Korner Blues Incorporated
Alexis Korner (guitar), Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Chris Pyne (trombone), Danny Thompson (double bass), Terry Cox (drums)
Recorded London, April/June 1965

Humphrey Lyttelton Big Band
Humphrey Lyttelton, Greg Bowen, Bert Courtney, Kenny Wheeler, Ian Carr (trumpets), Chris Pyne, Eddie Harvey, Mike Smith (trombones), Ray Warleigh, Ronnie Ross, John Surman, Tony Coe, Alan Skidmore (saxophones), Colin Purbrook (piano), Ron Mathewson (double bass), Jackie Dougan (drums), Kenny Graham (composer, arranger, director)
Recorded London 1966

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Bob Cornford (piano), Dave Holland (double bass), Alan Jackson (drums)
Recorded London, 29 August 1967

Alan Skidmore Quintet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Harry Miller (double bass), John Taylor (piano), Tony Oxley (drums)
Recorded at Monteux Jazz Festival, Casino de Montreux, Switzerland, 19 June 1969

Alan Skidmore Quintet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Harry Miller (double bass), John Taylor (piano), Tony Oxley (drums)
Recorded London, 27 October 1969

Weather Report + Guests (NDR Workshop 73)
Wayne Shorter (soprano saxophone), Josef Zawinul (keyboards), Miroslav Vitous (double bass), Alphonse Mouzon (drums), Dom Um Romao (percussion), Eje Thelin (trombone), Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), John Surman (baritone saxophone)
Recorded at Funkhausstellung, Berlin, Germany, September 3, 1971

Alan Skidmore Quintet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), John Taylor (piano), Chris Laurence (double bass), Tony Levin (drums), Dietrich Schulz-Köhn (announcer)
Recorded at 13th Deutsches Jazzfestival, Kongresshalle, Frankfurt, Germany, 24 March 1972

Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Mike Osborne (alto saxophone), John Surman (soprano saxophone)
Recorded London, 27 January 1974

Alan Skidmore with Österreichische Rundfunksender Big Band
Recorded at ORS Jazz Time, Vienna, Austria, 25 May 1976

Alan Skidmore / Tony Levin
5. Oxford Road, B13 (Alan Skidmore/Tony Levin)
Alan Skidmore (tenor & soprano saxophone, drums, percussion), Tony Levin (drums, percussion)
Recorded in Tony Levin’s music room, Oxford Road, Birmingham, 21 July 1977

Alan Skidmore / Tony Levin / Tony Oxley
Alan Skidmore (drums, percussion), Tony Levin (drums, percussion,) Tony Oxley (drums, percussion)
Recorded in Tony Levin’s music room, Oxford Road, Birmingham, November 1977


Alan Skidmore (soprano saxophone), Ali Haurand (double bass), Tony Oxley (drums)
Recorded at Fabrik, Hamburg Germany, 19 October 1981

Alan Skidmore with Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR, Colin Towns (arranger)
Recorded at Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Hannover, Germany, December 1989

Tenor Tonic
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Paul Dunmall (tenor saxophone), Paul Rogers (double bass), Tony Levin (drums)
Recorded at Pendley Jazz Festival, Tring, England, 6 July 1985

Alan Skidmore with Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR, Horst Mühlbradt (arranger)
Recorded at Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Hannover, Germany, December 1989

Alan Skidmore Trio
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Mick Hutton (double bass), Spike Wells (drums)
Recorded London, 26 October 1987

Alan Skidmore with Colin Towns’ Mask Symphonic
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Colin Towns’ Mask Symphonic, Colin Towns (arranger)
Recorded, CTS, Wembley, London 1989

Elvin Jones Jazz Machine
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Sonny Fortune (tenor saxophone), unidentified (piano), unidentified (double bass), Elvin Jones (drums)
Recorded Ronnie Scott’s, London 1988

Alan Skidmore & Kenny Wheeler with Jazz Live Trio
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Klaus Koenig (piano), Peter Frei (double bass), Pierre Favre (drums)

Recorded at Radio Studio DRS ( Studio 2 ), Zurich, Switzerland, 19 January 1980

Alan Skidmore / John Surman
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), John Surman (baritone saxophone)
Recorded at Mike Osborne Benefit Night at 100 Club, London, 30 April 1991

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Arnie Somogyi (double bass), Mark Taylor (drums)
Recorded London, 1992

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Arnie Somogyi (double bass), Stephen Keogh (drums)
Recorded at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham, England, 5 April 1997

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Arnie Somogyi (double bass), Gary Husband (drums)
Recorded NDR Studio, Hamburg, Germany, 10 March 2000

Colin Towns Mask Orchestra
Colin Towns Mask Orchestra featuring Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Colin Towns (composer, arranger, conductor), Guy Barker, Henry Lowther, Martin Shaw, Graham Russell, Nathan Bray (trumpets), Barnaby Dickinson, Roger Williams, Pat Hartley, Liam Kirkman (trombones), Nigel Hitchcock, Simon Allen, Phil Todd, Julian Arguelles (saxophones), Dudley Phillips (double bass), David Hartley (piano), Ian Thomas (drums), John Parricelli (guitar), Paul Clarvis (percussion)
Recorded at Moers Festival, Moers, Germany, 13 May 2005

Alan Skidmore’s Ubizu
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Ingolf Burkhardt (trumpet), Steve Melling (piano), Mike Paxton (drums), Colin Towns (keyboards), Neville Malcolm (double bass), Saidi Kanda (percussion), Musa Mboob (percussion)
Recorded London, England, January 2008

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Geoff Gascoyne: double bass, Tony Levin: drums
Recorded at Fleece Jazz Club, Suffolk, England, 2011

Alan Skidmore Quartet + Georgie Fame*
Alan Skidmore (tenor Saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Geoff Gascoyne (double bass), Ian Palmer (drums), Georgie Fame (vocals)
Recorded at A European Jazz Jamboree, Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie Berlin, Germany, 19 September 2008

Alan Skidmore Quartet + Ed Jones & Howard Cottle
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Andrew Cleyndert (double bass), Miles Levin (drums), Ed Jones (tenor saxophone), Howard Cottle (tenor saxophone)
Recorded at Café OTO, London, England, 17 July 2019

Alan Skidmore Quartet
Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Steve Melling (piano), Andrew Cleyndert (double bass), Miles Levin (drums)