LOL COXHILL

SPECTRAL SOPRANO

EMANEM 4204 (2-CD set)

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LOL COXHILL soprano & tenor saxophones, etc
with various other musicians
 

A1 - AUTUMN IN NEW YORK - 3:35 -- with piano, bass & drums - 1954
A2 - BAD BOY - 2:45 -- Tony Knight's Chessmen - 1964
A3 - STRICTLY LEGAL - 2:45 -- soprano saxophone solo - 1996
A4 - VERMILION SANDS - 7:47 -- with Paul Schütze - 1996
A5 - NOT THE NORTH - 4:00 -- with Steve Miller - 1996
A6 - THREE GO TO LETCHWORTH - 2:51 -- with Bruce Turner & Dave Green - late 1980s
A7 - EMBRACEABLE YOU / QUASIMODO - 5:59 -- with Veryan Weston - 1997 May 4
A8 - UNION DUES - 3:35 -- with Pat Thomas - 1997 November 20
A9 - TURNED OUT NICE AGAIN - 8:09 -- with Lu Edmonds - 1998 August 25
A10 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB COBBING - 2:01 -- Birdyak (with Bob Cobbing, Hugh Metcalf & Jennifer Pike) - 1998 July 30
A11 - I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU - 13:11 -- with Stu Butterfield, Veryan Weston & Olly Blanchflower - 1997
A12 - AQUASLIDE - 0:57 -- underwater slide saxophone solo - 1996
A13 - EXPERIMENTS WITH TEMPERATURE - 2:19 -- with Colin Wood & David G Holland - late 1980s
A14 - TWO OUT OF THREE - 8:55 -- with Dave Green - 1998 August 19
A15 - MESSIN' WITH THE MAN - 1:54 -- Tony Knight's Chessmen - 1964
B1 - A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO SAX - 1:08 -- soprano saxophone solo with voice - early 1990s
B2 - MAGIC BUFFALO - 6:41 -- overdubbed saxophones & piano - 1986
B3 - UPTOWN TOP RANKING - 4:10 -- with Pat Thomas, John Edwards & Steve Noble - 1999
B4 - PERDIDO - 2:11 -- with trumpet, bass & bongos - 1954
B5 - OUT OF NOWHERE - 1:21 -- with piano, bass & drums - 1954
B6 - BRITS ABROAD - 6:25 -- The Recedents (with Mike Cooper & Roger Turner) - 1996
B7 - TOURISM IN CRISIS - 2:16 -- with Steve Miller - 1973
B8 - VERSTEHEN UND SPRECHEN - 2:03 -- with Colin Wood & Laurie Allen - late 1970s
B9 - MURDER IN THE AIR - 8:49 -- with Veryan Weston & Rik Rue - 1997 May 4
B10 - SWEET HAWAIIAN KISSES - 8:04 -- The Melody Four (with Steve Beresford & Tony Coe) - 1990 March 11
B11 - VICTORY WALK - 2:45 -- with Dave Green, Bruce Turner & Paul Rutherford - 1987
B12 - C.A.K - 2:34 -- with Knut Aufermann & Michael Kosmides - 1999
B13 - RESONANCE - 5:35 -- with John Edwards - 1998 June 12
B14 - INTRODUCTION TO THE ORCHESTRA - 9:46 -- London Improvisers Orchestra conducted by Steve Beresford - 1999 February 7


Total time 135:25

A4 originally issued on LO LCD02
Everything else previously unissued

 

Excerpts from sleeve notes:

This retrospective double CD gives examples of my early to recent work involving elements of improvisation including R & B, formally structured jazz, electronics, spontaneous music, an open rendition of an old play, and the odd bit of singing.

During the early 1970s, I released a double vinyl album entitled EAR OF THE BEHOLDER. It was intended to establish the fact that it is possible for a person to work within quite diverse areas of music whilst still maintaining a positive identity as an improvising musician. As with EAR OF THE BEHOLDER, SPECTRAL SOPRANO places my music within a range of different contexts. Those who are already familiar with my work since the 1960s will recognise the varying approaches to each of these situations.

Whereas a person who plays many different theatrical parts might be considered a 'character actor', a musician who is able to maintain an identity within numerous, varying areas of music is often criticised for having no base, or lacking a personal identity. Jolly bad show say I.

My major involvements remain with musical 'cliff-hanging', though I retain my interest in other more restricted musical forms. This double CD is positively riddled with the stuff, but not over-riddled, I hope.

LOL COXHILL 2001

This double CD was scheduled to be released by Mash in 1999, but it didn't happen for various reasons. It has been decided not to 'update' the contents even though Lol has continued to make much varied and magnificent music in the interim.

 

Excerpts from reviews:

"It's impossible to suggest, much less capture, the full breadth of this uncategorisable, chameleonic British saxophonist's career on disc, but this two-CD potpourri of recordings from 1954 to '99 comes close. Best known as a free improviser of serpentine, lyrical lines and oblique harmonic escapades, Coxhill has, over the years, indulged in rough-edged r&b, suave jazz standards, lounge-lizard romantic ballad crooning, sing-alongs with poets, embellishing ambient electronics, improvised 'concertos' and has even performed underwater - samples of which may all be heard here. The earliest performances, when Coxhill was still playing tenor sax on standards Autumn in New York and Out of Nowhere, reveal he could have established a reputation within the jazz mainstream, but once he switched to the soprano saxophone, his true character emerged - an arch-surrealist capable of interrupting a gorgeous stream of spontaneous melody to spout a silly one-man adaptation of a '20s drama, Murder in the Air. (That's here as well.)"

ART LANGE - PULSE 2002

"Fascinatingly varied, 2 CD retrospective spanning 45 years of Britain's wackiest saxer. Soprano saxophonist Coxhill has the most eclectic and engaging CV in British jazz. This runs from supporting visiting American r'n'b merchants in the '60s, to a stint in The Damned, all the while maintaining a position at the forefront of the avant garde/improvising scene. What unifies this multifaceted malarkey is Coxhill's impish sense of humour (dig the free-form version of Happy Birthday) and an innate commitment to coherence on even the most outlandish of pieces. The first four tracks exemplify this versatility - the beautiful bop balladry of 1954's Autumn In New York is followed by a lo-fi Bad Boy from Tony Knight's Chessmen, who backed Rufus Thomas in 1964. Next up, a lyrical solo excursion from 1996. This links seamlessly into some otherworldly electronic experimentalism with Paul Schutze. Only the generous genius of Lol could pull it off."

JOE CUSHLEY - MOJO 2002

"Over the last half a century Lol Coxhill's saxophone has appeared in a bewildering variety of contexts alongside the likes of (to name but a few) Rufus Thomas, Chris Macregor, Kevin Ayers, Alexis Korner, Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton and the Damned. To compile SPECTRAL SOPRANO, Coxhill and producer Steve Beresford have trawled through the archives (going as far back as 1954) and collected a range of collaborations and solo works which cover free improvisation, straightahead jazz, R&B and much else that is unclassifiable.

What does unite Coxhill's contributions to these disparate (and indeed sometimes desperate) pieces is a deep love of melody, which is evident as much in the free improvisations as it is in the Lester Young-esque tenor of Autumn in New York, Perdido and Out of Nowhere, all recorded at '50s jam sessions. Whether playing over jazz changes, electronics or (for example) drummer Roger Turner's unholy amalgam of Kenny Clarke, Tony Williams and a breaker's yard, Coxhill's playing (mostly on soprano, of course) seems utterly convincing in any context; capable of lovely, soaring melodic lines, spluttering atonalities or acerbic sarcasm.

His solo improvisation Strictly Legal is remarkable, taking a long, unfolding series of lines for a walk which imply some inaudible accompanist's chords. On the group improvisations his approach ranges from the lyrical (with bassist Dave Green and altoist Bruce Turner) to playful (with Veryan Weston) to rhapsodic (with Steve Miller). One of the loveliest things on the record is his 1973 duet with Miller's electric piano - included to 'remind hippies that I once travelled with an echo unit', according to the sleeve notes.

The Coxhill sense of humour is also well in evidence, as on the 'English Translation' of Althea and Donna's Uptown Top Ranking or the overripe vocal delivery of Embraceable You, which segues into a meticulous deconstruction of Charlie Parker's Quasimodo (played brilliantly and with love by Coxhill and pianist Veryan Weston). This kind of approach is a breath of fresh air in an area of music that can take itself a bit too seriously; much like a good joke, Coxhill's playing is founded on notions of timing, cirumstance and quick thinking. The man is a national treasure, and SPECTRAL SOPRANO is crammed full of fine examples of his work in progress. Recommended."

PETER MARSH - BBC 2002

"The music here goes from jazz, to ambient, to spontaneous, to electronic. It is interesting too to see the big quantity of musicians that have worked with Coxhill through all the years helping him to develop different sides of his musical personality. The music contained on these two CDs is of essential listening for every musician who wants to know something about improvisation. Coxhill can do from hyper fast sax lines to sustained notes, to shrieking sounds in order to develop the idea that he has in his mind. It is great to see that this superb musician has always a new desire to explore and break boundaries. A must.

Favourite tracks: All. These two CDs show us why this superb musician is a master of experimental and improvisational music."

FEDERICO MARONGIU - MUSIC EXTREME 2002

"This magnificent release is a carefully compiled two CD retrospective of the career of one of London's best-loved musicians. Lol Coxhill is old enough to have seen National Service in the Air Force, and young enough to join electronics whizzkid Knut Aufermann for a live internet linkup with Arizona. His willingness to enter wholeheartedly into this kind of project, alongside musicians young enough to be his grandchildren, is one of his noted characteristics. Another is his onstage humour - his timing and deadpanning are the equal of many full time comics. The audience audibly eats out of his hand as he sings Sweet Hawaiian Kisses with Steve Beresford and Tony Coe in the trio known as The Melody Four. Yet comedy can be a millstone round a musician's neck, and Coxhill deploys it only when he sees fit.

What broke me up the most on this album was Murder in the Air, Coxhill's rendition of all the voices in a 1920s (serious) play about a suspicious flying accident. Expertly chaotic accompaniment comes from Veryan Weston and Rik Rue. Then there's the voice: Coxhill's high tenor is a surprising tender instrument. He oozes hilariously inapposite sincerity on Gershwin's Embraceable You, then segues into the full-blooded sax and piano torrent of Charlie Parker's Quasimodo. On one of the most bizarre tracks, he transforms Uptown Top Ranking into pervy reggae sleaze - or is that what it was all along?

Oh, and the saxophone. Always loquacious, squirreling phrases away, a curious tone full of cat-threatening curiosity. Here we see time telescoped, from the rich, warm jazz tenor of Perdido at the Hop Pole, Aylesbury (1954), via the soprano and echo unit alongside Steve Miller's Wurlitzer piano (very 1973), to the 1990s electronic landscapes of Paul Schütze, and the 'concerto' with the London Improvisers Orchestra. Many a jazzer would have stayed with Hop Poleism and still be playing it today, but Coxhill has opted for a canny open-mindedness about genre, embracing the risks of spontaneity."

CLIVE BELL - THE WIRE 2002

"Free improvisers often receive criticism because they don't (or choose not to) play within other contexts. Lol Coxhill sets the record straight on SPECTRAL SOPRANO, a collection of pieces that span a very broad range of styles from '54 through the late '90s. Coxhill has had his fingers in everyone's pie at one time or another, and this 2-disc set testifies to his abundant curiosity. The thick sheaf of liner notes and photos provides a loose roadmap to the high (and odd) points in Coxhill's varied musical career.

Rather than ordering the pieces in chronological order, the producers decided to render a tossed salad out of the affair. Opening with a lyrical ('54) rendition of Autumn in New York, the first disc moves right into rock and roll. Subsequent instalments cover the gamut from straight-ahead jazz through soul-inflected solo improvisation, electronic music, goofy vocal games, and wild experiments with tone and structure. One thing is for sure: Lol Coxhill does not take himself too seriously. But rather than offering a self-indulgent display of styles, however, SPECTRAL SOPRANO reveals quite a bit about the man and his music.

Something about this record reminds me of FRINGE BENEFITS, a similar 2-disc retrospective assembled by Jon Rose, the restless free improv violinist. Rose performed violin improvisations knee deep in the surf - Coxhill delivers an otherworldy swimming pool performance recorded by a condom-encased mic. Rose tossed in a snippet of his day job in a country and western band - Coxhill a pair of lo-fi recordings with Tony Knight's Chessmen, a very run-of-the-mill '60s rock band. The point of the former: neither player is afraid of taking risks to explore the outer boundaries of sound. The point of the latter: every working musician has to earn a dollar (or a pound, as the case may be).

Some of the most illuminating tracks on SPECTRAL SOPRANO lie somewhere in the middle:
* A duo performance with Veryan Weston of Embraceable You (leading into Quasimodo) projects an infectiously bouncy lightness.
* Vermillion Sands, a collaboration with electronic music pioneer Paul Schütze, suggests melancholy and regret.
* Two Out of Three contrasts Coxhill's bird-like soprano tone with pedal points by bassist Dave Green.
* On Tourism in Crisis, the saxophonist plugs into an echo unit and dances through the air alongside Steve Miller on keyboards.
* On Victory Walk, Coxhill joins two other horns and a bass through an arranged melody, loose sauntering improv, and a free-sounding ending.
* The closer, Introduction to the Orchestra, features the saxophonist's first performance with the London Improvisers Orchestra (25-strong!), a delicately interwoven group improvisation.

If you've had a chance to hear Lol Coxhill play in open improv settings, you'll know he has enormous talent. But SPECTRAL SOPRANO is an ear opener. His versatility and range are surprising - and best of all, he has a very well-developed sense of fun. For the curious, SPECTRAL SOPRANO presents a welcome cornucopia of sounds. These two hours end way too soon."

NILS JACOBSON - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2002

"There are very few versatile artists that hold the importance Lol Coxhill has in European improvised music. His highly personal style on soprano and tenor saxophone (fluent, lyrical yet capable of shrieking outbursts), his ability to perform with everyone and in every style, from jazz standards to the weirdest electro-acoustic improv, backed by his enduring sense of humour, all draw the figure of a maverick musician. SPECTRAL SOPRANO, a collection of mostly unreleased tracks recorded from 1954 to 1999 charts most of his ventures. A 20-page booklet full of photographs and liner notes complete this marvellous set. The producers chose a non-chronological order, allowing us to experience the stylistic shifts and contrasts in all their glory. The earliest pieces are bebop numbers salvaged from 78 rpms. Out of the sixties we get a couple of pop songs by Tony Knight's Chessmen. The '70s and '80s were mostly kept under wraps, but we are treated to some music for dance, a duet with Steve Miller and a couple of numbers with saxophonist Bruce Turner. More than half of the set comes from the 1990s and feature Coxhill improvising with various musicians from the London scene, including Veryan Weston, Steve Beresford and John Edwards, along with his groups The Recedents and The Melody 4. Highlights abound and from all directions: The Recedents' Brits Abroad is top-quality improv, the rockabilly vibe of Messin' with the Man brings a smile on your face, while Embraceable You/Quasimodo and Murder in the Air are exquisite examples of avant-comedy theatre. The concluding piece with the London Improvisers Orchestra is just icing on the cake. Highly recommended."

FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2002

"This two-disc retrospective compilation of moments from Lol Coxhill's life in music is a handy introduction to a saxophonist whose level of consistency in playing intriguing and moving music is unparalleled in Britain. The music here ranges from balladry to drum'n'bass experimentation, from the unholy racket of Bob Cobbing's Birdyak to the '60s R&B of Tony Knight's Chess Men, from Embraceable You to a duet with Lu Edmonds of The Damned. However, this is not glitzy downtown polystylism, it's tender and sincere, loopy and plaintive. Coxhill's particular sensibility invades every nook and cranny.

This collection begins with Vernon Duke's Autumn in New York, played in 1954 on tenor sax with straight piano, bass and drums accompaniment. Coxhill begins with variations and concludes with the melody, immersing the listener in the caressing harmonic suavity associated with a player like Stan Getz. It's a gem, and proof that Coxhill is utterly at home in the language of bop - the playing has an eloquence and freedom that no pasticheur could achieve.

This segues into Bad Boy, from 1964 when Coxhill was in the horn section of Tony Knight's Chess Men. This compares well to early releases by Them and The Who, featuring that tinny, febrile energy which distinguishes British R&B, and was later distilled as the motivational aesthetic of punk. Track three is a Coxhill solo on soprano from 1996, a brilliant example of Coxhill's mature style. Honed by busking, the musical argument is pressured and consequential, even though it includes a fantastic ability to surprise and fly off at tangents. The sensation of freedom - simultaneously thoughtful about musical structure, yet dadistically open - is characteristic of all Coxhill's music. Once heard and appreciated, this quality is addictive.

All the music here has an openness that results from Coxhill's confidence about dealing with situations, his enthusiasm for humanity's foibles. His soprano saxophone provides a line of questioning intelligence which tests and probes the world about him, the 'music' played by his colleagues as another environment for his solitary musings. Although intensely personal and vocalised, this gives his music a certain chill, the opposite of the emotional attack of Free Jazz: all the elements are allowed to be themselves, rather than being martialled into a single phalanx. Unlike the minimalist composers who claim his influence, Coxhill has understood John Cage's suggestions about understanding environmental sound as art. However, there is no impersonal Zen transcendence here, no claims to have achieved communion with nature; the music is indelibly marked by chatter and bustle - sonic socialism.

Coxhill does not have the prejudices which can cut improvisers off from the oral history of music and restrict their playing vocabularies. Keyboardist Pat Thomas - whose parents came to Britain from St Vincent - reports that Coxhill taught him several traditional Caribbean tunes which he'd learned when playing ska in the early 60s. Here, Coxhill and Thomas - along with John Edwards and Steve Noble - play a wonderful version of Uptown Top Ranking, Althea and Donna's pop hit from 1978. Coxhill also recites a 'translation' of the patois of the original lyrics, one of several outbreaks of spoken word to be heard here. His hesitant, involuted wit has many parallels with his playing and - as on his first release, EAR OF THE BEHOLDER - his voice provides an apt foil for the music.

There are many other delights here, such as a dazzling nine-minute track with the London Improvisers Orchestra. The recording does justice to the illustrious personnel - a list of London's best players - and Coxhill's extraordinary musicality holds the orchestra together. This shifting, iridescent track works like a summary of everything we've heard on the two-hour album. Coxhill's long been known as a non-pareil improviser and instigator of musical situations. Now he has compiled an album which is as rich and varied as one of his own solos."

BEN WATSON - SIGNAL TO NOISE 2002

"In a recent blindfold test, soprano specialist Lol Coxhill spoke volubly about all kinds of music, from dub reggae to free improvisation to garage rock and beyond. This is a man with wide-ranging interests and, from the sound of things on this multi-decade compilation, the energy to match.

As ever, people are bound to make comparisons with Lacy when assessing Coxhill's style. But it's clear over the course of these filled-to-capacity discs that the Englishman has a very different set of approaches to the straight horn. On a vast number of these pieces - and not just the early Jazz or R&B flavoured ones - you can detect a sort of Blues influence, for lack of a better term, a rounded, vocalese articulation that is largely absent in the work of soprano peers Lacy or Parker. It's fascinating to hear Coxhill's stylistic and conceptual development while also studying the consistency of his concerns and ideas. The twofer is worthwhile for that alone.

Along with an anonymous session band, we hear Coxhill engaged in similarly anonymous but competent work on Autumn in New York, Perdido, and Out of Nowhere - but lest we think this is all he has to say regarding standards repertoire, there is an altogether more experimental take on Embraceable You / Quasimodo with Weston on keyboards. The former three are from the mid-1950s, the latter from 1997, and this pairing is perhaps the best opportunity to witness how far Coxhill has come and yet how his heart is still in the garrulous, romantic textures of these early performances (and also with the extended boogie of the 1964 pieces Bad Boy and Messin' with the Man). He's an expressionist at heart, always seeking out a new context and new challenges.

Much of the rest of the material comes from the 1990s (though with notable entries from the previous two decades as well). Among the highlights are fairly arch pieces like Magic Buffalo (overdubbed squeaks and piano, all by Coxhill) and the superb duos with Paul Schutze (Vermilion Sands) or Lu Edmonds (Turned Out Nice Again where the former member of The Damned sounds grimly fiendish on fretless 3-stringed bass banjo) which will surely please avant fans. But for some of the best experimental pieces, one must wait until the end of the second disc: the fine electronics trio on C.A.K. (with Aufermann and Kosmides) is followed by a superlative duo with John Edwards and a rich piece with the London Improvisers Orchestra.

As if this weren't enough, one gets an appreciation of Coxhill's humour, too, on A Brief Introduction, which he produced for a bogus instructional video, and on Sweet Hawaiian Kisses (with Beresford and Coe). And then, of course, there is his penchant for narrative, heard on the revisionist version of Uptown Top Ranking and on the play Murder in the Air. There is so much here that it's difficult to say in all candor that it will uniformly please newcomers to Coxhill (though veteran listeners will almost surely delight). Still, it's a valuable sampling of the multiple personalities (or is it a single, very multi-textured personality?) of a master player."

JASON BIVINS - CADENCE 2002

"There is no-one quite like Lol Coxhill. The only musician one might feasibly liken him to is Lee Konitz: prolific, endlessly inventive, deceptively dry-toned. Spectral Soprano is a wonderful primer, a grab-bag of early material onward. As such, it doesn't have much structure or principle of order, but it dramatizes his personal take on both jazz and free music. An early recording - made at a lo-fi 33/4 i.p.s. - has him running the changes on Autumn in New York and already demonstrating his preferences for melody over mere harmonic variation. There are cuts featuring the young saxophonist, still then basically a Pres-influenced tenor man, with Tony Knight's Chessmen, who toured with visiting American R&B artists; there are solo performances from throughout his career, most notably Magic Buffalo, which has him ranging between tenor, soprano and piano; and there are duo and group pieces, with Steve Miller, bassist John Edwards, with the so-called Melody Four (a trio, naturally) and with the London Improvisers Orchestra. A predictably eclectic dramatis personae includes alto saxophonist Bruce Turner, 'the Dirty Bopper', Lu Edmonds of punk band the Damned and poet Bob Cobbing. Lol also checks the acoustics of a Danish swimming pool with a slide saxophone. As a compilation, it isn't faultless and there are some frankly bad recordings, but it builds a picture of a protean genius; Lol's spoof saxophone tuition tape at the start of CD2 is a delight.

RICHARD COOK & BRIAN MORTON - The Penguin Guide to JAZZ RECORDINGS, 9th edition, 2008

 

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