The present popularity of jazz-rock "fusion music" obscures the fact that there was a time when jazz was jazz and rock was rock and that was that. The two styles eyed each other suspiciously, exchanged criticisms and mutual dislike prevailed. Then something happened. British rock musicians in the mid-1960s were becoming increasingly eclectic in their tastes in their search for new styles, many of them found jazz an obvious choice.
The Spencer Davis Group, Graham Bond Organization and Alexis Korner were among the first to use jazz elements in their music and they were soon followed by such groups as Cream, Traffic and John Mayall. Cream was the most successful, musically and commercially, and their blending of blues-based-rock with improvisational jazz proved that rock musicians had both the imagination and technique to sustain "jams" that were coherent and exciting. The group's stature was such that drummer Ginger Baker could issue a challenge to Elvin Jones that resulted in their famous drum duel in London in 1970.)
While Cream grabbed the headlines and Traffic's Steve Winwood became a superstar, there were a score of British musicians whose work, while much less publicized, helped to create the fusion of jazz and rock that has become prominent in the 1970s. They combined the electric power of rock and the cool intensity of jazz into a style that was intelligent, yet driving and forceful.
One of the most imaginative and influential of these was keyboardist Brian Auger. In 1964, he was playing in a group with John McLaughlin and Rick Laird (who gained fame in 1972 with the jazz-rock Mahavishnu Orchestra). Later, he formed Steampacket, a jazz-R&B group that included Long John Baldry and an unknown singer named Rod Stewart. WHen Steampackt disbanded, Auger and vocalist Julie Driscoll formed the Trinity, the first rock group to play the Montreux and Berlin Jazz Festivals. Until it departure in 1969, Trinity's music set the smooth, flowing lines of Auger's Hammond organ against the strident, almost eerie quality of Driscoll's voice and established their names in the new jazz-rock movement.
After the breakup of the Trinity, Auger formed the Oblivion Express, a group that, for the most part, wast his creative enegies with dull interpretations of jazz classics and pale rock songs. Driscoll married keyboardist Keith Tippetts and perand her musical tastes became more formed with his orchestra, Centipede, experimental, dealing primarily with the creative possibilities of "free voice."
Now together again, Brian Auger and Julie Tippetts have returned from obscurity with a new record. "Encore" (Warner Bros. BSK3153) is a musical delight that demonstrates the boisterous, soulful qualities of the Trinity with an added sense of maturity that makes their performances stronger and more self-assured.
"Encore" isn't sendowed with the revolutionery spirit of the early Trinity record; no fresh ground is being broken. There is, however, a calm sense of musical awareness and a joy of playing that eclipses the artistic pretensions of many jazz-rock's spaceage wizards.
The elements of teh Trinity sound - Trippetts' rough and powerful vocals and Aguer's delicately constructed solos are still there, but instead of sounding hackneyed and dated, they are enlivened by the enthusiasm of musicians who respect their abilities. The R&B classic, "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," shows off the soul-and-bluesy aspect of Tippetts' voice, while Al Jarreau's "Spirit" and "Freedom Highway" are expressive jazz-based rockers. Her version of Steve Winwood's "No Time to Live" lacks the haunting quality of Traffic, yet she creates a mysterious and compelling mood.
Brian Auger's keyboards are a joy. He has the ability to balance the strength of Tippetts' voice with the subtlety an dnuance of his own playing. His solos on "Future Pilot" and "Spirit" are fiery and energetic, yet never forsake melody and composition. His playing is characterized by an expressiveness and thought that is lacking among many of the new jazz keyboard virtuosos.
"Encore" documents the musical abilities of two of jazz-rock pioneers whose music has not been diminished by the years or by subsequent innovations. This record should be required listening for anyone interested in "fusion" music or high-quality jazz and rock.