Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Phil Bancroft and the lost CDs - Pt 1.

I once called the office of Caber records, a now extinct CD label for promoting Scotland's jazz music and musicians, after reading a little quote on the CD sleeve saying that you could return the disc if you weren't satisfied by the music. I'd just read a review on a disc by Phil Bancroft and his then 4tet called Headlong and thinking it sounded really interesting ordered the disc from Caber. On first hearing the CD I was a little disappointed due to the fact that the sax was not taking a more 'upfront' traditional role, which is what I'd been expecting. I called the Caber office a few days later and started explaining the situation (taking into account the remark on the CD about returns). The secretary for some reason didn't get what I was saying and said that Phil was in the office and why didn't I speak to him ....!!! So, onto the line he came, and I then had to explain the situation to my embarrassment and of course to Phil's amazement. He stayed calm and suggested politely that maybe I should give the CD a second chance and then the conversation carried on a bit as I asked after his other albums. Anyhow, I kept the CD, and to cut an already long story short, I ended up over the next two years buying a packet of albums from Caber, all of which are excellent. In fact, and the reason for this posting, Headlong became one of my all time favourite albums and seriously influenced my thinking about composition and musical direction. Also as I discovered the gems that were coming from the Bancroft brothers Phil and Tom I was more and more interested in getting a more personal style of music for myself, and those discs were in a way the start of one of my projects Al-Orkesta. But that's a whole other thing, and here I thought to highlight a few of those CDs from the now defunct Caber label. How these guy and their music missed the radar is a mystery to me, and of course the failing of such a world-class label also(*).

Swings and Roundabouts (Caber 1998)

Phil Bancroft - Tenor Sax
Steve Watts - Bass
Marcello Pellitteri - Drums

Swings and Roundabouts is (as far as I know) Phil's first CD, and in a way it was the album I was kind of looking for (when complaining to Caber) and I ordered this a short while after my phone conversation. It's exactly what the doctor ordered when you need a good dose of jazz, and quite daring jazz at that. In fact the one thing that stuck out on hearing Headlong earlier was the individual compositional direction, and on this, his first album, it's amazing the way Phil Bancroft has filled a CD with very individual compositions. Not only are the compositions original but all are very strong pieces and very mature, exactly what most peoples first CDs (and the rest) lack, and that's not even talking about the playing. There are two non originals Space Buffie 1999 from his brother Tom and an amazing version of Duke Ellington's - I Got it Bad. The album moves from excellent free playing which seems to be very cleverly intertwined into the compositions, one of the amazing strengths of the music, and some beautiful romantic semi-ballads - B's Niece and Love-gone Wrong - which are often (to my ears) very 'folk' oriented and innately Scottish. The other pieces are little gems compositionally Rock House, Swings and Roundabouts, and Jiggle all have amazing twists and turns that make them a joy to hear each time, and although it's a Rollinsesque trio they manage to avoid any of the genres clichés. Hubert and Cowboy Pete an out and out calypso kind of reminds us of Sonny Rollins more immediately, but with a fantastic tag that brings to mind Joe Henderson playing Raincheck on the CD Lush Life

Phil's playing is also outstanding, great sound, furious swing (when needed), very clearly defined lines when playing free improvised sections. He seems to combine lines and more intervalic playing which keeps his style one step away from more traditional players modern post bop approach, and the style that most conservatories teach nowadays. 

You can listen here to Swings and Roundabouts from this album. I choose this piece quite simply because it was the shortest pieces on the CD, and not because it represents the album. However, I love the way the trio plays this open sounding and very melodic tune and at least gives a chance to hear how Phil sounds. I should also say that Steve Watts and Marcello Pellitteri are a joy to hear also, and it's in part due to their supportive playing that the music works so well. 

Swings and Roundabouts - tk 8.

Finally, due to the amount of space taken up by my first Phil Bancroft CD posting, it looks as though this is going to become a Pt 1, 2, 3 etc - I'll be looking at Headlong and some of the Trio AAB CDs. So check the label tags and find out more on this story. I also think that if you're interested to find this CD you can still (maybe) find it on Amazon, or of course try contacting Phil Bancroft directly.

(*) Read this article to understand more about the sad (demise) story of Caber Records. I managed to talk with Tom Bancroft in a quick phone interview where he explained some of the problems of running such a project.

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