…a wonderful time to become reacquainted with a saxophonist who has been woefully overlooked in recent years.

Cordial Recordings CORDLP001

Julian Nicholas (tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet); Mark Edwards (piano & keyboards); John Bedford (double bass); David Wickins (drums)

Originally released ’Mountain People’ Cassette 1992

Julian Nicholas (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet); Mike Pickering (drums); Thaddeus Kelly (bass); Mark Edwards (piano)

Originally released ‘Heavy Plant Crossing’ CD-r 1997

I have heard this music before some years ago, although not at the time of their original release.  Somehow, I was in the fortunate position to have been sent copies of the original albums as CD-r’s by the saxophonist. Quite how this came about I cannot recall, but what I have not forgotten is the music.

Now thirty years after the earliest of these albums was recorded, the music is being made available again due to an inspired idea from Cordial Recordings to re-issue the music in a series of three LPs.

To be released under the collective title of Rising Cost of Love the albums will document the Julian Nicholas Band’s music from their original formats of a cassette in 1992 (Mountain People), the CD in 1995 (Square Groove), and a final release from the group in 1997 on CDr (Heavy Plant Crossing).

This is a most welcome initiative, yet in a perverse sense also shows the neglect we have shown to one of our most unique and talented saxophonists.

Making his name as a member of the forward thinking big band Loose Tubes in 1988, Julian Nicholas also spent time playing in the bands of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, along with US legends Kirk Lightsey and Harry “Sweets” Edison.

More recently, based in Brighton where there is a thriving yet surprisingly underappreciated jazz scene, he has worked with Terry Pack’s Trees, Claire Martin, Imogen Ryall and The Cloggz.

So, what is it about Nicholas’s playing that led Bobby Wellins to describe him as “one of my favourite saxophonists”? Well, the answer partly lies in the music heard on this LP.

Spending time making other people sound good is only a small part of Nicholas’s gifts. As well as talented improvisor on tenor and soprano saxophones, he is also fine composer. He has contributed compositions for The Cloggz, but it is composing for small groups that stands out on this recording.

The opening ‘Mountain People’ is to all intents and purposes a relatively straight ahead jazz tune but in reality, fuses together musical ideas that the saxophonist has drawn together from his vast experience playing other people’s music in various genres.

His use of John Bedford’s bass to track the melodic contour of the composition not only provides solid support but also forms an important part in the overall shape of the music.

Likewise with David Wickins on drums and the use of keyboards still sounds interesting and has not dated at all, and Mark Edwards’s lengthy solos sounds fresh and exciting. ‘Lucky Star’ also features a subtle yet playful use of the electric keyboards, as the soprano then emerges to dance melodically over Wickins solid drum motif, and Edwards’s entry on the piano lightens the mood as the drums open up becoming more expansive.

Soloing over a clever backdrop that follows a dual course between keyboards and piano accompaniment, Nicholas’s soprano line never falters. Edwards’s then takes a subtle and imaginative keyboard solo that calls to mind Josef Zawinul and Weather Report’s more reflective moments.

The third track on the LP, and also from Mountain People is ‘A Thousand Ships’ and the first time we get to hear Nicholas stretch out on tenor. This features some dynamic playing from the rhythm section as the tenor not so much swoops as plough a solid furrow right through the music with a declamatory statement that is impossible to ignore. This in turn ignites the band producing a searing solo from Mark Edwards.

‘The Food of Love’ is a superb quartet piece featuring Nicholas’s beautiful tone on soprano and bass clarinet in a ballad that is exquisite in terms of the structure of the composition. Five years on from the other titles, ‘The Food of Love’ demonstrates how the saxophonist is constantly evolving both as a musician and composer.

Opening with Nicholas playing the melody on soprano and some excellent playing from Mark Edwards confining himself to piano and demonstrating what an excellent player he is, to a wonderful overdubbed ‘dialogue’ featuring the soprano and bass clarinet.

Hopefully this inspiring series of reissues will bring Julian Nicholas to the forefront of our thoughts as he will also be releasing some new music with his own band and a new set from The Cloggz.
All in all, in a wonderful time to become reacquainted with a saxophonist who has been woefully overlooked in recent years.

Reviewed by Nick Lea