V/A - Underground London - The Art Music and Free Jazz T [El/ Cherry Red - 2020]On El, follow on from their last 1960’s counter cutler compilation I’d Love To Turn You On, here’s Underground London- a three-disc set focuses in on sounds that inspired the British underground musical cultural. The sound here is much more jazz focused, with darts into modern classical, Indian music and hip spoken word fare.
Just like I'd Love To Turn You On- this three-disc set comes in a card slip sleeve- with each disc coming in its own CD sleeve. The sets features a thick thirty five-page booklet, this takes in a series of counter-culture quotes, write-ups about each artists & who influenced the 60’s cultural revolution, and full tracklisting & credits.
So we’ll touch down on each discs content- and kicking off disc one we have a classic & lengthy slice of ( by today's standards) fairly approachable free jazz, in the shape of "W.R.U" by The Ornette Coleman Quartet- this was the opening track from the Quartet’s 1961 album Ornette!- the just shy of sixteen & a half minute track is wonderful taut & propulsive blend of throbbing ‘n’ bass, snaking ‘n’ darting percussion & Ornette Coleman playful-to-fairly manic sax work. By track four things have mellowed back a bit with Eric Dolphy’s "Left Alone"- with his flighty-to-smooth bass clarinet take on a Bill Holiday track. After this, we have a brief dip into more sinisterly atonal modern classical waters with György Ligeti "Atmosphere"- a fully orchestral work that favors dense hovers & swarms of sound, instead of former melody or meter…on and of course, it turned up on the soundtrack for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. As we move towards the end of disc one we carry on the intergalactic flavor with a classic Sun Ra track “Rocket Number Nine Take Off For The Planet Venus” with it's jerky on/off mix of rumbling bass, hissing percussion, darting keys, wailing horns & sudden break out of joint chanted vocals.
Moving onto disc two, and after the wondering & drumless cool jazz of Jimmy Giuffre’s "Jesus Maria". We move into the twanging & churning rich musician Indian drone ‘n’ pluck of Ravi Shanka’s "Raga Jog"- which takes up a fair chunk of the disc run time at twenty-eight plus minutes. As we carry on we go from the snazzy hard bop meets African percussive flow of Yusef Lateef’s "Morning", the darting & elegant piano-led trad jazz of The Dudley Moore Trio’s- "Theme From Beyond The Fringe". And along the way we dart off the jazz track once- with a short slice of baying ‘n’ groaning early electro drone from Daphne Oram & Desmond Biscoe’s "The Ocean".
Moving onto the third & final disc in the set, we move from darting ‘n’ rolling piano-led jazz of Cecil Taylor Trio’s "Love For Sale", onto jittering & sinister purring electroacoustic churn of Stockhausen’s "Etude Concrete". Going onto bright & buoyant vibe led jazz of Victor Feldman’s "Serpent’s Tooth", onto honking ‘n’ rolling free jazz of John Coltrane and Don Cherry "The Invisible". And just before the end of the disc, we get a big slice of unsettling & strange 60’s electroacoustic texturing from Luciano Berio "Visage For Electronic Sound". So Of the three-disc, I guess you’d say this darts more away from the Jazz path.
All in all Underground London is another enjoyable enough counter culture compilation from El. The track layout does feel a little random at times, and it often doesn’t have the rewarding & more coherent flow of some of the labels comps- but if your interested in this period in music & prefer a more jazzy focus to your compilations I think you’ll enjoy much of what we have here.Roger Batty