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Nucleus - Ian Carr with Nucleus: Labyrinth CD (album) cover



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4 stars Apparently, Labyrinth is a concept piece based around the Greek mythological character the Minotaur. Of course had Carr put his figure on the cover in a pair of pimp style flares, holding a gun instead of a knife and his bitch was wearing an afro then the story may have been a bit cooler and fitting to the music. The music does nothing to remind the listener about Greek mythology but it could have been an artful concept if he had placed his character in San Fransisco somewhere in the early seventies. With a brace of wailing trumpets and some tidy electric piano work this album is surely a product of its time. It is cool fusion of the seventies cop show car chase kind but interspersed with noodling and a little more. Chris Spedding's replacement Allan Holdsworth had a quick departed after the Belladona album, probably to join Soft Machine like all the other former Nucleus departed including drummer John Marshall and the multi instrumental Karl Jenkins. And though I jest a little he in fact did join Soft Machine around the time of the Bundles album. With his guitarist now gone Carr decided to not to fill that void with a replacement guitarist, but the absence of guitar adds to a depth rather than a void as that hole is quickly filled by the surrounding musicians including electric piano player Gordon Beck and the dependable Brian Smith sharing saxophone duties with Tony Coe who also adds clarinet. These horns, and not forgetting the trumpets, work in a fantastic harmony making light of Holdsworth's departure despite his obvious talent. And not to forget Roy Babbington and Tony Levin who keep a solid time with bass and drums respectively. Kenny Wheeler and Ian Carr are soaring through the mood with their trumpets often in tandem, often floating freely, giving the music a looser and broader mix than any other Nucleus album, though the previous album, Belladonna, does share those traits. "Adriadne" also offers a new dimension to the Nucleus sound. Singer Norma Winstone adds some dreamy and very jazzy vocals to this track and while on first listen they sound irrelevant and needless they do add some colour to the tune, surrounded by some neat flute work which carries the album forward to the excellent work out within "Arena PT 1" and Arena PT 2" where Labyrinth takes off with some clean and sexy funky fusion sounds based around rock rhythms like much of Nucleus work, but even though the album can range a little wild it still cuts across as one of Carr's better efforts. If the concept of the album is loose and even pointless the music plays on that to great effect. This big band feel version of Ian Carr's Nucleus works a treat here. Cheesy as they come, Labyrinth does not take itself as seriously as the early Nucleus albums.
Report this review (#48341)
Posted Sunday, September 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars With this awful artwork sleeve depicting heroic-fantasy cartoon, we're dealing maybe with the lower point of Nucleus's often brilliant discography. Obviously unable to keep a stable line-up for now (as most of his older group members had fled to Soft Machine), and after Ian's solo album of Belladona, Labyrinth will be presented as Ian Carr With Nucleus, until he found a more stable group. With only Smith and Babbington remaining from Belladona (with Babbington about to leave for SM also) and with Wheeler (who had appeared as a guest in Solar Plexus), this line-up lacks cohesion and it really shows in the music. At times, the musos are so cacophonic, that it sounds really under-rehearsed, despite having some of the best London Jazz Scene guests, like Gordon Back, Tony Coe or Norma Winstone. This album is again pulled from a commissioning order around the Minotaur myth.

Opening on the fairly dissonant Origins (obviously representing the chaos of the genesis), the album stabilizes on the spell-binding and groove-friendly Bull-Dance. However, Labyrinth sinks quite low with the near-atrocious Ariadne, first with a dissonant piano (courtesy of Beck), then one of Winstone's less inspired performance in the 70's in the second part. On the flipside, the two-parts Arena returns to dissonant free-jazz stuff in the opening movement, while the brass slowly elevate the nascent groove, only to let it croak in a dissonance death. The happy-sounding up-beat Exultation features some much-better (and improvised) Winstone vocals, slowly ending in a slightly dissonant chaos, before reviving it for another merry-go-round spin, then having a drum-fest courtesy of the old RCQ buddy Tomkins and Trinity Thacker. The closing Naxos features Coe's bass clarinet and gives a third shot at Norma. Along with Julie Driscolll (by now Tippetts) Norma Winstone is one of those 70's British jazz vocalist that had some very (many) interesting moments; but clearly here, it is not one of them.

For confirmed fans of Nucleus only, but then again, even Nucleus' worse albums are always quite interesting and certainly worthy of an investigation, before deciding to pass up on it. Because it is hooked up with another not-so-strong Roots album, the BGO 2on2 reissue of Labyrinth is not the first choice of Nucleus, but one day, I'll find time to own it.

Report this review (#48478)
Posted Monday, September 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The fifth work announced in 1973 "Labyrinth". The sound accomplishes a crossover that succeeds Miles Davis and clear transfiguration in this work.It is an Electric jazz a sound it is smooth and with the shadow. It is a British version of initial RETURN TO FOREVER. An album with a peculiar taste to this group, too.

Report this review (#52377)
Posted Thursday, October 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I will admit I am a NUCLEUS fanboy but I don't think this album gets the respect it deserves."Labyrinth" was commissioned by the "Park Lane Group" with funding coming from the Arts Council. "Labyrinth" is a concept album inspired by the mythical Minotaur. Ian Carr went to great lengths to make this a success, even to the extent that certain instruments represented specific things in this concept. I must admit i'm not big into concept albums so I simply sit back and enjoy the music here which is fantastic to say the least. Lots of horns here (2 trumpets, 2 flugelhorns, 3 saxes, 2 clarinets) with electric piano, bass, synths, percussion and drums.Twelve musicians total including Trevor Tomkins on percussion and Roy Babbington on bass. The female vocalist (Norma Winstone) is terrific, especially the way she is mostly used throughout , that is using her voice as an instrument instead of singing.

"Orgins" opens with atmosphere as sounds come and go. Bass clarinet and vocal melodies come in. Blasts of horns after 2 minutes and vocal expressions. Drums dominate late. "Bull- Dance" opens with bass as percussion and drums join in. Horns are next. This is great ! They're grooving now. Bass clarinet before 3 minutes. A calm with trumpet 5 minutes in. The beat is back and it's building before 7 minutes with more grooving. "Ariadne" is almost spacey to open then piano leads for almost 3 minutes. It then turns jazzy with female vocals (the only time she really sings lyrics). I remember the first time I heard this, I stopped with raised eyebrows and thought : "This is different". It works though. Flute joins in followed by clarinet.

"Arena Pt.1" is a short experimental piece with piano and horns. "Arena Pt.2" builds with vocal melodies, piano and horns standing out as drums pound. Bass comes in. Great sound here. Powerful music that settles late. "Exultation" opens with the horns, percussion and bass standing out early. Check out the improvised vocal melodies that join in. Love the keyboards and bass before 2 1/2 minutes when the horns stop. It's a drum / percussion show after 5 minutes. "Naxos" features solos from clarinet, sax and flugelhorn. It opens with bass and a slow beat with bass clarinet before the sax and flugehorn arrive. Vocal melodies before 2 minutes. Very cool. An incredible way to end this album.

In the liner notes it mentions how proud Ian was of this work back then, proud enough to send a copy to Gil Evans in the hope this great arranger would work with British musicians, something that would come to pass a number of years later.

Report this review (#286698)
Posted Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Nucleus's time in the spotlight quickly faded after the split of the original line-up, but Ian Carr continued to release multiple albums under the band's name (or a variation thereof). 'Labyrinth' is one of those albums and while it may not have the best reputation (and poor album art), it nevertheless contains some strong titles.

Carr parted ways with guitarist Alan Holdsworth and the latter's pointless soloing. As a result, the band returned to their building blocks: groove and melody. After the experimental opener, 'Bull-Dance' brings the best Nucleus has to offer, subtle trumpet melodies, enchanting rhythms, a psychedelic mood and tight functional soloing. The song is accompanied by wordless vocals from Norma Winston. She also takes the leading role on 'Ariadne', a fairly standard jazz-song. The ensuing 'Arena' is an alternate take on 'Bull-Dance' with a looser rhythm and noisier soloing. 'Exultation' sounds very much like the upbeat brass-rock of their earlier album, it has a strong leading melody but the Latin jam fits my taste slightly less. The 12 minute 'Naxos' makes for a strong ending, a circling bass guitar loop inspired the band for a meditative psychedelic jazz rock improvisation in a silent Davis' kind of way.

Not the best but still a good Nucleus album. It's not as vibrant and refreshing as their first two albums but it is easy going and just plain nice.

Report this review (#450037)
Posted Friday, May 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars It's always interesting (and amazing really!) to see the different views on this forum. Hey, that's what makes it fun isn't it?

For me, I adore this album - such a Neil Ardley and Miles Davis influence, yet remaining firmly Ian Carr's vision. I admit the cover could have been more appropriate for such a tall subject, but oh well, the music's the deal here.

The soloing from all members is really fantastic, the rhythm section is brilliant, and I absolutely love the female vocals, with in fact, a bit of a Canterbury feel to some of the vocal inflections. And of course the writing is real writing, not just a jam session - although there is a nice loose feel to some of the performance.

Ian Carr's whole catalog is really good, and this is (for me) at the top of the library of his tremendous offerings.

Report this review (#453487)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Temporarily lost in the Labyrinth.

NUCLEUS have been one of my fave bands for decades. Oddly, this album has escaped my attention for much of that time and I only managed to track it down in recent years. Perhaps there was a reason for that?

At this point, bandleader Ian Carr finds himself without a band as half of the previous members have defected to SOFT MACHINE. A leading British composer/musician. Carr had no problem with finding replacements. He is also very good at getting grants that help with getting over the odd glitch.

The release of this album was perhaps rushed as the end result appears to be somewhat underdeveloped. The musicianship is excellent - as always - but the compositions just don't stack up, lacking the collective input of a well established band.

It's more of a Carr solo project than NUCLEUS as we've known the band. The title "Labyrinth" is apt as the result appears to be directionless, A few steps this way, a few steps there, still searching for an exit.

Special mention is due to the featured singer, Norma Winstone, who has previously collaborated with Carr in 1969. Her beautiful and sensual voice is either overused here on a few tracks, or should have been a feature throughout the whole album.

Contrary to the talented musicians, this is the weakest album Carr has released. Thankfully, by the time he gets to the next work "Roots", we are back to more familiar territory that befits the band much more.

Report this review (#964424)
Posted Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Review Permalink

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