on 3 August 2005
Imagine if you will two bands playing at once - one improvising freely and noisily, the other playing hard-hitting jazz-rock-funk riffs in a selection of interesting tempi - with an overlay of plush brass arrangements. The Test Card scored by Albert Ayler? Not quite. But Metropolis remains an extraordinary work, even by Westbrook's own standards. His biggest ensemble assembled outside of Marching Song (23 musicians in all, including a double rhythm section, electric and acoustic) works to create an astonishing melee of impressionistic urban onomatopoeia which can sometimes ("Part I") come across like a noisy neighbour hi-fi battle (no bad thing in this instance), at other times a delicate tracery of pointillistic free interaction (the immaculate Norma Winstone on "Part III"), at yet other times like Archie Shepp hijacking the Northern Dance Orchestra (George Khan's tenor freakout on "Part VI"), and finally as a series of gorgeous ballad settings, most notably in the terribly moving finale "Part IX," a justly celebrated feature for Harry Beckett's melancholic but very Milesian trumpet which somehow manages to fuse the Miles of both Miles Ahead (those Evans-esque carpets of brass and woodwind) and In A Silent Way (the twinkling electric piano and stealthy percussion). Both the apex of, and epilogue to, Westbrook's first phase of large-scale composing, Metropolis can still astonish and touch three-and-a-half decades later.
This was my first Mike Westbrook album – I got it on LP around 1977 – and hearing it again after many years I believe it has stood the test of time very well indeed.
The re-mastering on this CD is excellent (I picked my copy up in 2014, so the sound problems that blighted the earlier release from BGO appear to have been rectified.)
This was a high-point in Westbrook's output at the time; a nine-part extended composition for a 23-piece big-band featuring the cream of British modern jazz talent of the day. The carefully structured piece is comprised of a series of free collective improvisations, simple melodic motifs, solos and chugging jazz-rock motor rhythms underpinning various sections; the ensemble work and orchestration is first-rate and the whole work has a terrifically effective dynamic, with so many stand-out contributions from the musicians involved, culminating in Harry Beckett's lonely flugelhorn solo – typical Beckett, leaking tuned fog into the microphone to the accompaniment of a quietly atmospheric, repeated piano-led figure – and perhaps one of the most bleakly beautiful pieces of music in all British jazz.
There's the added benefit of a very good liner note too – the original LP had no supporting information other than the playing order reproduced on the back of the CD.
This was recorded at a time when British jazz ceased to merely emulate American models and stepped out with it's own ideas and concepts; “Metropolis” was one of the landmarks of that process and deserves a place in your music collection - it remains a powerful listening experience, well worth discovering if you are unacquainted with Westbrook's big-band work.
on 19 April 2009
This album has one track I still listen to, many years after buying this album for the first time. Metropolis part 9 is my favorite jazz track ever. I prefer it to Miles' Blue in Green og Coltrane's Love Supreme. Metropolis is an utter masterpiece and probablt the most chilling piece of music you can listen to. It's full of rainy London nights and sigarettes.