Extrapolation is one of the finest jazz records ever made in Europe

Polydor 8415982

John McLaughlin (guitar electric and acoustic); John Surman  (baritone and soprano saxophones); Brian Odgers (bass); Tony Oxley (drums)

Extrapolation (3:59) / 2. It’s Funny (4:17) / 3. Arjen’s Bag (4:25) / 4. Pete The Poet (4:27) /
5. This Is For Us To Share (3:29) / 6. Spectrum (2:45) / 7. Binky’s Beam (7:05) / 8. Really You Know (4:25) / 9. Two For Two (3:45) / 10. Peace Piece (1:50)

All titles composed by John McLaughlin. Several of the compositions were carried over by McLaughlin to the Tony Williams’ Lifetime and his own later bands.

The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD states quite firmly that ‘Extrapolation is one of the finest jazz records ever made in Europe.’

John McLaughlin had played around the London jazz scene for a while.  This album features fluid modal harmonics with the improvisation determined by the shape and texture of the composition.  McLaughlin’s playing style was as much influenced by rock as jazz.  Shortly after this recording McLaughlin went to New York to work with Tony Williams’ Lifetime.  He eventually recorded ‘In A Silent Way’ With Miles Davis.  He would then move on to The Mahavishnu Orchestra, collaborations with Paco de Lucia, Shakti and prestige events with symphony orchestras.  ‘Extrapolation’ is McLaughlin at the beginning and many would argue that it is McLaughlin at his jazz best. There is not the powerhouse playing from McLaughlin but a sensitive jazz orientated musical soloing that is inventive and creative.

John Surman was an important UK musician in 1969.  He was about to develop The Trio with drummer Stu Martin and bassist Barre Phillips.  Surman’s facility on baritone saxophone equalled the American masters such as Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Harry Carney.  Since this recording Surman has developed his playing and his composing.  His works is still influenced by his upbringing in the West Country; he has never really been seduced by Americana.

Dave Holland was due to play on this session but he was spirited away to New York to join the Miles Davis group. Brian Odgers was a session musician and on the evidence of this album he could have developed his jazz work.  The sad thing is that on all the releases of Extrapolation nobody could be bothered to ascertain the correct spelling of his surname. On the album he is a commanding presence with a strong solid sound and an ability to twine himself around the melodies from Surman and McLaughlin.  He played with Elton John, Lou Reed, Roger Daltrey, Van Morrison, Georgie Fame, The Walker Brothers, Al Stewart, Vangelis and Serge Gainsbourg.

Tony Oxley is the complete drummer. On this album he is in the background completely in harmony with the soloists. ‘Pete The Poet’ dedicated to Pete Brown the performance poet is an opportunity for Oxley to solo.  He developed a style of playing over the years and has played with an impressive group of players: Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Derek Bailey. Tony played with Cecil Taylor in the latter years of the pianist’s life. To call Oxley a drummer is a mistake: he expanded his kit over the years: in later years he was certainly a percussionist.

A great off-centre rhythm opens ‘Extrapolation’ generated by Odgers and Oxley.  The perky tune has guitar effects by McLaughlin.  Surman’s gruff and articulate sound rides over the stylish rhythm.  Just a pity Odgers did not play more jazz. He is a towering presence.

A wonderful mood switch, reminds that the music is a suite. It moves into ‘It’s Funny’.  According to McLaughlin it is written with ‘unheard lyrics by the incomparable Dussy Downer (Duffy Power) reflecting its opposite result. Sad Joy.’ McLaughlin and Surman express the sad joy. At one point McLaughlin plays a trio with Odgers and Oxley

‘Spectrum’ opens with Surman, baritone to his lips as he emerges out of ‘Spectrum’ with Odgers supplying steady rhythm.  McLaughlin produces a broken line and intense interplay with Surman before Surman closes the piece ‘A hymn to light’.

‘Arjen’s Bag’ is dedicated to a Dutch musician Arjen Gorter, a bassist from Holland, who played with McLaughlin and Gunter Hampel. This composition is an altered blues on which McLaughlin has decided nothing will resolve.  It is in 11:8 time.

‘Binky’s Beam’, the longest piece on the album is dedicated to Binky McKenzie, a great bass player who according to McLaughlin was unjustly jailed.  Odgers plays bass tribute while McLaughlin’s guitar sings poetically in the background.  When Surman enters he completes the mood of gentle sadness over repetitive figures from Odgers.

‘Really To Know’ has a meditative start with Odgers and McLaughlin preparing the sounds for the entry of the equally thoughtful Surman on baritone.

‘Two For Two’ described as an ‘excursion into freedom’.  McLaughlin hits the guitar freewheeling hard with spiky improvisations before the bass of Odgers restores order so that Suman can leap off in his version of freedom.

The most beautiful piece on the album is ‘Peace Piece’.  It is all McLaughlin.  He plays acoustic and the feeling of the piece is tinged with an Indian mood, the kind of direction he would soon follow: sheer beauty.

If you are returning to the album, or listening to it for the first time, you might agree with the assessment that ‘Extrapolation is one of the finest jazz records ever made in Europe.’