Jazz Lips
LP: Tune Stereo T 5.002
Release date unknown
Original recordings mainly from 1962

Although it contains tracks that with one exception have all been released on other 12-inch LP records (as well as a few on compact disc), Jazz Lips is a rare and difficult-to-obtain record. It was released in the Netherlands on a fairly obscure label, although I don’t know the release date, and it consists of twelve tracks, the majority of which were recorded in 1962, several of them with guest Edmond Hall on clarinet. (The covers of some alternative releases on which some of the tracks appear are shown below.)

The early 1960s Barber Band was at the height of its creative and technical powers at this time, which roughly coincided with the end of the British “trad boom”. The rhythm section, in particular, left most similar British bands standing in the dust – the subtle yet driving drumming of Graham Burbidge, the sure and melodic foundation provided by Dick Smith’s bass, and the subtle, light touch of Eddie Smith on banjo. Ian Wheeler, on clarinet, had settled in and matured with the band for almost two years by this point, contributing ensemble playing and solos on alto and soprano saxes in addition to clarinet, while Pat and Chris had emerged as two of the elite layer of British musicians on their respective instruments of trumpet and trombone.

While it’s a cliché to say that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, what was also striking about this line-up of the band was its ensemble work, again not only unmatched but quite probably un-dreamed-of by contemporary traditional jazz units. Nowhere is this more evident, on this record or elsewhere, than on “Jazz Lips”, the album’s title track – a lovely, relaxed version of a rather obscure Duke Ellington composition from the late 1920s.

I’ve been a fan of the Chris Barber Band for almost as many decades as the band has been in existence, but it’s only in the last few years, stimulated by the need to illustrate this website and also by the availability of old records on eBay and GEMM, that I’ve been making a concerted effort to fill some holes in my Barber record collection. To the best of my knowledge, Jazz Lips has not been offered for sale on eBay for the last three to five years, but I recently managed to locate a copy on GEMM. I bought it mainly for the unusual cover, a quite striking, crisply-printed and colourful series of repeated close-ups of Chris Barber. Perhaps you can imagine my delight to find that the record also includes the added bonus of a track that is not available anywhere else on record, “8:20 Blues”.

“8:20 Blues” is credited to Chris as composer, but to me it sounds like the product of one of those rare but fortunate moments when a simple riff turns into a fully fledged composition. The track begins with some excellent ensemble playing from the regular front line, plus Edmond Hall, then continues with solos from all four players, with a particularly biting contribution from Ian Wheeler on soprano. This is very much a mainstream-style jazz recording. While it was something of a departure from the band’s usual repertoire and approach, it wasn’t entirely unprecedented. To me it’s quite reminiscent of an earlier Barber composition, “Pound Of Blues”, recorded some years earlier for Volume 4 of the Chris Barber Plays series of 10-inch LPs (now available on one of the CDs in the Nixa Jazz Today Albums box set) – an approach to jazz that became more and more dominant as the band extended its repertoire and style through the rest of the 1960s and into the 1970s.

How I wish that the unrecorded tracks on this LP (notably all of the recordings with Edmond Hall) would appear on compact disc. That they have not yet done so when almost the entire 1950s and 1960s Barber catalogue is now digitally available represents one of the largest and most important gaps in the CD catalogue. And while I’m on the topic of a “wish list”, what a treat it would be to hear “Jazz Lips” arranged for the eleven-piece Big Chris Barber Band.

Ed Jackson (April 2006)
Music: Jazz Lips || There'll Be Some Changes Made || 8:20 Blues
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