It’s something of an unfortunate truth that the British music scene has never really produced much in terms of notable jazz musicians. Although jazz has always had a following there, inexplicably that never translated into producing much in terms of notable creative artists. That’s not to say that there were no talented jazz artists in the United Kingdom; they simply prove to be much more obscure than American artists. Pianist Gordon Beck was one such artists, and is currently undergoing hey bit of a revival thanks in part to a reissue campaign. Jubilation! Trios, Quartets And Septets In Session 1964-1984 is a three disc collection of unreleased live performances that highlights the man’s talent.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Beck was routinely categorized as the British equivalent to other musicians; in his case, Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans. Considering Beck had a knack for composing complex melodic patterns deep into simple sounding, easy on the ears piano music, such comparisons are most apt. The first nine songs of the three disc set find him in concert during the mid to late 1960s, playing with his Trio and producing satisfying numbers such as “Sincerity,” “Time After Time,“ and the Vince Guaraldi-like “Virgo” and “Miss T. Flying.” By the end of the decade, he formed a septet, adding a horn section and becoming much more adventurous in his compositional style., as demonstrated by the manic “Whoops!” and dreamy thirteen minute epic , “Tying Up The Loose Ends.“
Beck’s experimental spirit extended into the 1970s, as he formed another trio–referred to as MOB–and turned his attention to electric piano. The switch was an interesting one, altering his sound ever so slightly, but on tracks such as “Little D” and “Was That The Way It Was?,” the difference is marginal. Yet from tapes of him performing solo, one can hear him play with the familiar tones electric pianos create, and “Suite: Bits And Pieces” is a nearly 30 minutes exploration into a mellow jazz fusion that sounds almost like contemporary pop.
The 1980s found Beck expanding into quartet format, offering him a wider pallet for more adventurous arrangements. Working with notable vibes and percussionist Frank Ricotti, his melodies take on an even dreamier quality, with “Lady V” and ”Romantic, Isn’t It” proving to be true highlights of this three volume set. The collection concludes on a somewhat mysterious note, with two unknown tracks performed with an unknown combo, the mystery of which only adds to the excitement of these extremely adventurous, complex, and frantic numbers.Beck would spend the remainder of his life performing occasionally and teaching piano, retiring in 2005 due to poor health, and passing away in 2011.
Although his name may not be well known outside of British jazz circles, Gordon Beck was a fine composer and pianist. Jubilation’s recordings of him in various iterations only goes to show just how talented the man was, as serves as a fine introduction to this relatively obscure figure.