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Nucleus - Torrid Zone - The Vertigo Recordings 1970-1975 CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.08 | 5 ratings

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4 stars NUCLEUS and its frontman, trumpetist Ian Carr (the albums we are now dealing with have both the band name and Carr's name on top of them, in various combinations) were among the leading acts in the British jazz fusion scene in the early seventies. Those listeners that are into the [post-Third] jazz era of SOFT MACHINE, are most likely already familiar with Nucleus -- and if not, in Nucleus they will surely find another band to appreciate. In fact several musicians who had played in Nucleus joined Soft Machine: Karl Jenkins, Roy Babbington, Allan Holdsworth, John Marshall... This brand new Esoteric Recordings release Torrid Zone is a 6-disc (in total 6 h 20 min) box set containing nine Nucleus/Carr albums released by Vertigo in 1970-1975: Elastic Rock, We'll Talk About It Later, Solar Plexus, Belladonna, Labyrinth, Roots, Under the Sun, Snakehips Etcetera and Alleycat.

The 48-page booklet features the album informations and an essay written by rock journalist Sid Smith. Since the chronological continuum of the albums understandably divides many of them into two discs -- one disc having material from as many as three albums -- at least the booklet could have been slightly more systematically edited; for example the album covers are in many cases placed somewhere else, in the middle of the essay. Also I wish, as usual, that the track lengths were marked. Especially when they vary a lot, it would be good to know whether you're listening to a brief or a 15-minute piece.

In a nutshell, Nucleus played instrumental fusion/jazz-rock in which jazz is the dominant part of the equation. Trumpet, flugelhorn, saxes and flutes are central in the arrangements, but also guitar is often essential. Some of these albums are entirely composed by Ian Carr and some have many composers. Releasing nine albums in five years, what a work ethic Ian Carr had! No wonder that the line-up was under a constant change. The best known albums especially in prog circles are the first two that share the same line-up (e.g. guitarist Chris Spedding and reeds/keys player Karl Jenkins). Elastic Rock is seen as one of the most noteworthy fusion albums all time. Excuse me for not going into album-by-album analysis or into describing music in a more detailed fashion, I'll just pick up some interesting notions. Solar Plexus is, according to Carr's original liner notes, "based on two short themes which are stated at the beginning ('Elements I & II'). The first theme is angular and has a slow, crab-like movement: the second theme is direct, simple and diatonic". There are two shorter pieces exploring both themes, while 'Snakehip's Dream' "tries to fuse both themes". That long piece which Carr had been developing for a whole year was a sort of a musical blueprint for future Nucleus releases.

The Ian Carr album Belladonna features a relatively compact small group of six musicians. For me one of the most interesting albums here is Belladonna's follower Labyrinth (1973), a more "widescreen" work which was inspired by the Greek myth of the the Minotaur. Vocalist Norma Winstone has quite a big role on a couple of tracks. This album also features another celebrated trumpetist, Kenny Wheeler. BTW, drummer Tony Levin is just a name-sake of the famous bassist. Roots (1973) uses the vocals of Joy Yates, to a lesser extent. For the next album Under the Sun (1974) the whole line-up around Carr was changed (e.g. reeds player Bob Bertles, keyboardist Gordon Beck and guitarists Jocelyn Pitchen and Ken Shaw). The two final Vertigo albums albums, Snakehips Etcetera and Alleycat (both 1975) are funkier in style.

Ian Carr's most productive years as a musician ended during the 80's for health reasons. Alzheimer's disease led to his death in 2009. Today he is a notable forefigure for the new British jazz generation. This package of nine albums is a great hommage to his timeless work.

Matti | 4/5 |


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