Live In Bremen


With the exception of those who cultivate the jazz-rock language spoken with an English accent (a much bigger minority than commonly believed), not many people know about Nucleus. But for a brief moment - let's say, 1970, and their Elastic Rock and We'll Talk About It Later albums - the group was quite big, those records - and their influence - being practically inescapable. Things were alright in the third album, Solar Plexus, and a bit later (see Belladonna, '72), but some key members left to join Soft Machine. Then, the US brand of jazz-rock (fusion - think: Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra) turned up the amplifiers and the electric guitars, leaving the milder, gentler sound of their English cousins commercially in the dust.

Some rocking riffs, an agile guitar, unison themes played by trumpet and saxophone. On paper, the recipe was quite simple - who can forget Song For The Bearded Lady, the track which opens Radio Bremen? A 90' concert, a very nice recording which can convey the meaning of the music and the atmosphere of a packed theatre. We see Miles-influenced leader Ian Carr, on trumpet and flugelhorn; Brian Smith, the group's best soloist, on saxophone and flute; Karl Jenkins was like the group's director - he wrote most of the material - very good on oboe and at the electric piano, where most of those famous riffs originated; very solid, on drums, John Marshall. On bass, Roy Babbington replaces Jeff Clyne, while Ray Russell's aggressive saturated guitar replaces Chris Spedding's (there's a nice Russel-penned calypso, Zoom Out, at the end of CD 1).

We have famous tunes such as Torrid Zone, Elastic Rock and Snakehips' Dream, plus some nice jamming improvisations; and the group's authentic feeling of enthusiasm for the material - and their mutual empathy - are more than enough to make this listening experience a very good one.

At the end of the CD an unpleasant thought crossed my mind. On the average, when compared to Soft Machine's, one listened to the music by Nucleus with obvious joy but without thinking too much about it (which is not to say that it wasn't taken seriously). And this music worked. (A little anecdote: during Spring '74 the Soft Machine line-up from the album Seven - i.e., a group which was made for 3/4 by former Nucleus members - plus Allan Holdsworth opened the set with the aforementioned Song For The Bearded Lady: the place - a nice 1000+ theatre, full to the brim - went nuts.) So I thought about some groups - not very inventive, nor really that innovative - that in recent times have been mercilessly hyped by the industry, albeit the "alternative" wing of it, as doing a kind of important synthesis. And now there are quite a few tired horses around. (Kinda cryptic?)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | June 24, 2003