TONY COE / Coe-Existence

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Description rapide presents ‘Coe-Existence’, from world-renowned reedman Tony Coe. This LP, originally released on Lee Lambert in 1978, features Coe in a rounded selection of classics from Ellington to Nascimento!

* First ever worldwide release!
* Features John Horler Trio & percussionist Frank Ricotti
* Tracks include ‘Killer Joe’ & ‘Rio Vermelho’

Check the 30 second clips from the album...

02 LOVER MAN 5:38
03 KILLER JOE 5:26
05 VOCÊ 4:34

The interview...


In the 1970s Howard Lambert spent a lot of time in jazz clubs in England, enjoying great nights of jazz. However, it concerned him that none of this music was being recorded, as record companies were exclusively recording pop music.

So Howard decided that he would form an independent jazz label to capture, for posterity, some of the excellent british artists’ offerings. To his amazement, he discovered that there were, in the commercial record business, several serious jazz aficionados who were willing to give time and effort to assisting this cause. Initially, Howard recorded a series entitled ‘British Jazz Artists – Vol…’, and featured artists such as Terry Smith, Tony Lee, Martin Drew, Bill Le Sage and John Taylor.

Internationally-renowned tenor/soprano saxophonist and clarinettist Tony Coe has incredible credentials – Clarke-Boland Big Band, Derek Bailey’s Company, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Mike Gibbs to name but a few. He has composed several film scores and was the first non-american to win the coveted danish Jazzpar prize in 1995. ‘Coe-Existence’ was recorded at the BBC Studios in London in June 1978 and the liner notes come from Humphrey Lyttleton, with whom Coe began his career.

Tony Coe – Coe-Existence

Tony Coe is one of the most remarkable and brilliant musicians in the world. The sheer range of his musical activity – his work with Alan Hacker in the (for want of a better word) classical group Matrix, with Kenny Wheeler in Coe, Wheeler and Co., with pianist Gordon Beck in Axel, with the international Clarke-Boland Big Band, with John Dankworth, with the London Sinfonietta, not to mention his own major composition ‘Zeitgeist’ – is staggering and testifies to an awe-inspiring instrumental mastery. And this does not mean simply a technical facility, though there can be few musicians in the world who have so thoroughly explored the remotest corners of one instrument’s resources, let alone the range of reed instruments which Tony tackles. There is also the fundamental matter of musical thought.

An improvising musician’s thinking derives from the music styles and forms which he has assimilated and absorbed over the years. Tony Coe’s musical inspiration stretches from Albany ‘Barney’ Bigard to Alban Berg with all stops in between, and he explores the avenues which they have opened up with a speed of thought which is, above all, what makes fellow musicians look on with expressions that combine delight, amazement and despair! It may well be this capacity to outstrip the most alert musical intelligence that stands between Tony Coe and the unreserved acclaim that is his due.

This record should serve the double function of drawing belated attention to the ‘bridge-building’ aspect of Tony’s work, and of assuaging the fears of those who might think his work too ‘difficult’ for them. The opening clarinet theme of ‘Rio Vermelho’, on modal lines as ‘modern’ as you could wish, bends and distorts the clarinet tone in a blues manner that goes right back to Johnny Dodds and Sidney Bechet and is strongly reminiscent, in this aspect, of the late Sandy Brown. After listening to Tony, there is really no excuse for anyone henceforward to believe that the clarinet cannot be adapted to contemporary jazz without losing its distinctive jazz voice. In this piece, two C clarinets are overdubbed, extending even higher Tony’s already formidable range on the conventional B flat clarinet and contributing an attractive, rather squeezed sound of their own. Midway through the piece they are superimposed to create an aerial dogfight that is electrifyingly ‘hot’ in the true sense of the term.

Searching for a satisfactory definition of ‘le jazz hot’, I once analysed the playing of some of the great jazz players whom I had heard in the flesh – they included Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane – and concluded, as a common denominator, that they each gave me the impression that, if the instrument were suddenly snatched from their lips, the music would continue to pour out unabated. Tony Coe’s playing gives one the same feeling. ‘Don’t get around much…’, a straight tenor performance, takes off at the end of the opening statement with a sort of whinny of impatience and thereafter surges along joyously, with several of those ecstatic descents from a squeezed-out upper-register note that have become Coe trademarks.

In the two ballads, ‘Lover Man’ and ‘What are you doing…’, Tony’s tenor saxophone-playing builds a logical and totally original extension to what used to be called the Coleman Hawkins ‘rhapsodic’ style. Here again, one must beg those who pounce with a rather pathetic eagerness on the vestiges of the old warm-blooded ballad tradition in avant-garde performance by such as Archie Shepp to give more attention to Tony Coe, who brings that tradition up to date without destroying its fluency or feeling the need to inject angry noises. Is not this, after all, what ‘mainstream’ jazz really means – modern and forward-looking music that shows strong links with tradition? Tony has been providing it for almost as long as I have known him, which takes us back twenty-odd years.

‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Lee Thompson’s Blues’ (the latter named after a fictional tribe of expatriate Americans, created by Tony’s sons Simon and Gideon, who all share the name Lee Thompson and live in a North Yorkshire village called Cattlewick surrounded by teams of ex-girlfriends!) bring in overdubbed soprano saxophone which gives a brazen bite to the unison ensembles and contributes a sensational two-soprano outing in the latter title.

In devoting most of my space to emphasising the indisputably world-class quality of Tony’s playing on this item, I am in danger of implying that the support given him by his colleagues is to be taken for granted. To refute this, just listen to the version of ‘I’m getting sentimental…’ in which a quite familiar up-tempo treatment develops into a tornado of ecstatic sound. John Horler’s piano solos are everywhere an inventive and percussive treat.

Trevor Tomkins, with or without the added bonus of percussion by Frank Ricotti, is a tower of strength, resisting the temptation to match Tony Coe in complexity but building to fine climaxes when the occasion demands. And this record will show that Ron Rubin, always a good bassist, has over the past few years quietly but surely moved into that select category whose sound, intonation and swing merit the term ‘impeccable’. Listen to him in ‘Você’ and ask yourself when you heard better or more apposite bass-playing. Then play the whole record again – take in the beautifully natural sound and ‘mix’ that Bob Cornford (with a musician’s ear) and the recording team have achieved – and enjoy, not a british jazz triumph, but a jazz triumph, period.

Humphrey Lyttleton

Thanks to Howard Lambert for liner notes and to Bill Woods for tape transfer.

TONY COE / Coe-Existence

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