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Miller & Coxhill - Coxhill/Miller Miller/Coxhill CD (album) cover

COXHILL/MILLER MILLER/COXHILL

Miller & Coxhill

 

Canterbury Scene

3.00 | 1 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 10/15 P. Welcome to a most cumbersome record somewhere on the ridge between jazz and cacophony, performed by a load of more or less well-known Canterbury musicians. A fascinating and unexpectedly colorful view at the hard edge of the so-called Canterbury Sound.

... a general introduction

Coxhill & Miller is a line-up which, first of all, doesn't exist any more. Steve Miller, a gentle and often self-conscious musician, died way too early of cancer in 1998. Lol Coxhill, the quintessentially British saxophonist with his typically wry playing style, passed away in 2012 aged 80. Both musicians were part of Delivery, one of the embryonic bands of the Canterbury Scene, which - mostly due to Carol Grimes' presence - was too much about conventional blues rock to let these two eccentric musicians do what they were supposed to do: experiment, improvise and compose.

Lol Coxhill later had the possibility to stand in the spotlight with Kevin Ayers & The Whole World, a band which challenged the listeners with a hard-to-digest mix of sunny pop music and avant-garde jazz.

Steve Miller's mere moment of publicity was his brief stint with Caravan in 1972. He audibly wasn't satisfied with that job. The management apparently tried to press him into the role of former organist David Sinclair who had doubtlessly defined Caravan's sound more than any other band member, but after all Miller was a piano player. Miller's brief organ solo in the last part of Caravan's Nothing At All was pretty awful, but an interesting example of what happens if a musician is forced to leave his individuality behind.

Only by chance I found out that these two guys recorded two duo albums together which were lovingly restored and enhanced in 2007 by Cuneiform Records - and I was quite astonished at which musicians contributed to these two records. Nobody seems to know these albums, and most rock websites don't mention them - for a lack of rock in that mixture. This is why I'm glad that the Progarchives decided to add this duo to the Canterbury category, particularly since I believe that these records reveal the true and formerly concealed qualities of both musicians. They are - arguably - the pinnacle of Steve Miller's musical work; I don't know Lol Coxhill's solo albums, but I suppose they are even more exhausting for a rock listener because they mostly don't touch rock music anywhere.

This debut album spawns a different, free, radical and distinctly British take on jazz fusion - and there are more than enough references to the 'Canterbury Scene' to make it a compelling listen for fans of the music which would later be subsumed under that name.

...the album itself...

Miller - Coxhill / Coxhill - Miller is a most complex and tense album, more so than the (relatively, of course) relaxed, catchy and sometimes pastoral The Story So Far - Oh Really?. Both records share the principle of allowing Miller and Coxhill to dominate one LP side each - with variable contributions of the other one.

The debut album was recorded around 1971-1972, a time in which Steve Miller, Lol Coxhill and Phil Miller contributed to Caravan's Waterloo Lily album and in which Miller and Coxhill were soon to revive Delivery which, after several personnel changes, became Hatfield & The North.

SIDE A:

Thus it's not astonishing, but certainly a surprise, to hear that Chocolate Field is actually an instrumental, extended and chamberish take on a pretty obscure Caravan track (I won't directly tell you which one - the surprise effect is worth it, even if you only check out the 30-second-sample on Amazon or iTunes). Steve Miller is on grand piano, Lol Coxhill on soprano saxophone, and the pop of the Caravan version is completely replaced by some highly atmospheric parts (for instance 0:35-1:25) with huge piano chords and a lonesome saxophone crying on top of it. At this point it all sounds quite noble and well-behaved, no reverb or delay effects at all, somehow as if Colosseum had recorded their Valentyne Suite in 1840. It's jazz, of course, but it's played as if it were an sonata - dressed up with some very dry humor. Halfway through the track Miller engages in a lengthy piano solo which moves effortlessly from sustained impressionistic notes to dissonant clusters. As soon as Coxhill returns again the whole affair shifts gradually from an unusually liberal fantasia to a completely surreal atmosphere, especially when Steve Miller reduces his accompaniment to pushing down the sustain pedal (plus maybe some keys to enhance the effect for specific notes), allowing the piano strings to resonate with Coxhill's playing. Don't wait for the pleasant main theme to return again - 'relaxation' as such won't come until the next piece.

One For You has been added as a bonus track on a reissue of the Delivery album. I don't know if it's the same or a different take which found it's place there, but this album is where this piece originally belongs to. Around a pretty simple downward chord progression Miller (on grand piano) leads a line-up consisting of Pip Pyle (drums), Richard Sinclair (bass) and Phil Miller (lead guitar) through a captivating mid-tempo jam session; at least it's captivating as soon as you've gotten used to Phil Miller's wicked distortion and the overall overdrive of the record. Lol Coxhill doesn't appear on this track - all soloing is done by Phil Miller, unless you call Richard Sinclair's busy playing 'soloing', too.

The general hi-fi 'overdrive' on the record appears because Coxhill & Miller recorded for Richard Branson's Virgin low-budget Caroline label. The Cuneiforme 2007 reissue is mastered from (mint condition) LPs since there were no master tapes available. Details about the signal chain are mentioned in the booklet. Loud passages sizzle and overdrive a bit, but it's a very good quality after all - a warm and well-defined high-end without any irritating crackles.

With Portland Bill the first signs of the following madness appear. 'Portland Bill' is the name of the southernmost bit of the peninsula of Portland, a beautiful place close to Weymouth (UK). Its beauty is sadly spoiled by lots of plastic rubbish, and by the production of the famous Portland stone. At a high storm force the North Sea spills salty water in the grey sky and the waves crash around the Portland lighthouse which, in turn, warns the seamen with its horn.

I mention this just to give you an impression of a place I 'accidentally' visited at storm force 11. (Fortunately I had this track on my iPod when I was there.) This rough atmosphere is perfectly expressed in this piece, but an easy listen it is definitely not. The background is set by Archie Leggatt - Kevin Ayers' musical partner on Bananamour - who fiddles around on a low-tuned bass without a discernible tonality, and by Laurie Allan - the one who drummed with Gong and (in 1974) with Robert Wyatt - who bangs the cymbals in the background. On top of that Miller and Coxhill celebrate free jazz in its most atmospheric form. It's an endlessly flowing and meandering set of intuitive melodies and noises, and the whole effect is both terrifying and compelling at very same time. But don't wait for a motif or a riff - you'll be disappointed!

SIDE B

Side B, the 'Coxhill side', also comprises three pieces, but it lacks the classicistic influences and rather sticks to some pretty unusual experiments with electric percussion and tapes. Especially this percussion stuff makes it all sound more like 'ambient' than like Stockhausen.

The first piece, bearing the totally Canterburian title Will My Thirst Play Me Tricks/The Ant About To Be Crushed Ponders Not The Where Withal Of Boot Leather, forms kind of a trilogy with Maggots and Bath 72. It starts off in a free-form fashion with bicycle bells, clean guitar playing by Phil Miller and some weird piano and bass guitar noises. After forty seconds Pip Pyle's drums enter, but ironically it's the most unusual device, a primitive drum machine by Wurlitzer, which lends the piece some structure. Both Coxhill and Miller are credited with performing on that machine, and this gives the track a stoic sixteenth rhythm with its mechanic knocking. This is where the whole band revisits a slightly more conventional fusion sound with fuzzy guitar soloing and jazzy licks on grand piano and bass guitar, never abandoning this hectic knocking of the electric percussion. The last thirty seconds are Coxhill's solo of a tuned component of this machine, perhaps the 'marimba' registration, creating a pretty spacy and drony part which I appreciate a lot. No saxophones here - but instead a Wurlitzer percussion solo. Weird, but inspiring!

Maggots is more of the same, but adds disjointed saxophones which swing and dance in their own peculiar way until Richard Sinclair plays a simple bass riff in inconstant time intervals. Bath 72, finally, is the peripety of the cacophony which Coxhill has gradually prepared over the last few minutes. All electric percussion are now replaced by field recordings of water bubbles, playing children and urban noises which presumably were taped by Coxhill when he was busking in Bath. Roughly in the first four and a half minutes Coxhill plays his imaginative but awkward saxophone lines on one saxophone, then a second (electric) saxophone adds a counterpoint and finally returns some rudimentary tonality. Multi-tracked saxophone sounds, emulating the sound of ducks in a pond, appear in the very end and end this 12-minutes-plus cascade of British free jazz abruptly.

Wimbledon Baths, a short piece for two or three soprano saxophones, reminds me of a pervert form of chamber music. There are some motives and melodies, but Coxhill doesn't work them out. He simply mentions them once or twice. Nobody would argue that this ain't far-out and freaky music, but this distinct mixture of witty humour, a good sense of ambience (or atmosphere), free jazz music and an independent way of soloing (both of Coxhill and Miller) makes this anarchy of sound quite enjoyable for me - even though I'm usually not too much into free jazz.

The relentlessly flowing Gog Ma Gog, which features Miller's only performance on the Wurlitzer electric piano on this album, recalls the boogie music, which - apart from classical music - was the kind of music Steve Miller grew up with in the 1950s. Especially his (few) solos on Waterloo Lily depict this inspiration very well. In elaborately wound moves and vamps Coxhill's and Miller's playing is entangled, but the blues scheme is again 'surrealized' by the occasional weird twists such as Coxhill's trademark saxophone cascades (3:10-3:16, for instance), some stiff cluster chords (around 5:13) and, in general, Steve Miller's deliberately anti-swing playing: where most jazz players groove and play in a laid-back fashion, always a few milliseconds behind the cue, Miller sometimes plays aggressively stabbing, right there on the eighths. This playing style, and the way how Coxhill and Miller approach to and depart from each other regarding the notes and frequencies they're currently playing, are quite amazing and keep me concentrated at least through most of the eight minutes.

Taken together...

...it's pretty clear that this a hugely demanding album. I suppose I would never have made the efforts of obtaining it, weren't it part of the 2007 reissue. But the eclecticism which these two guys injected into free jazz here, taking influence from electronic music, classical music, genuine fusion and blues, is pretty exciting. Furthermore this work allows one to explore the Canterbury Scene, and quite a lot of the participating musicians, from a pretty unusual perspective.

As I've already mentioned, free jazz isn't what I'm usually listening to; this is why I'm only able to decide if I do or don't like this album - I can't rate if there's any album out there which might be better in one way or another. I like this album, but - just like the question how good Stockhausen's Gesang der Jünglinge is - I'm not quite sure how I should rate this. The Story So Far - Oh Really?, however, is the album which touched and inspired me more - maybe because it's closer to the kind of music I usually listen to, maybe too because it's by far less atonal and anarchic.

Overall, a good three-star rating appears reasonable, a rating which intends make you curious about what you find here.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |

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