48. News from the North

Slivadiv. From Back Door, 1972

Don’t recall when I first laid hands on this, sometime in the mid-1970s I guess, but it was an instant favourite. I listened to lots of jazz-rock back then, like everyone else, but not much of it stays with me. It’s interesting to revisit, but rarely compelling listening – the first couple of Mahavishnu albums excepted. But Back Door, who came at jazz rock from a different direction, still sound as fresh as paint on this first album – the one the trio cooked up in a pub in Yorkshire, and which was picked up by a regular record label a while later.

It’s a creative triumph for the two great players – Colin Hodgkinson on electric bass and Ron Aspery on saxes and flutes – with solid backing from the drummer they recruited, Tony Hicks. The bassist had developed a prodigious technique, one he still displays, while Aspery combined a similar accomplishment with a feel for freer jazz sounds that suited his horns, especially his alto sax, beautifully.

The result was this flawless album of intensely melodic, briefly realised tunes, often driven by bass and sax playing unison or interleaving seamlessly. The famous later quote from Jack Bruce about Cream being an Ornette Coleman style trio where he and Ginger Baker never told Clapton that was what they were doing comes to mind. Back Door combined Hodgkinson’s love of the blues – he’d been with Alexis Corner previously – with Aspery’s ear for Coleman and Ayler. He certainly knew that was what they were doing, and there is plenty of pleasingly raucous saxophone phrasing to prove it. Even on the slower numbers, the record had the exuberance of players who know they are onto something, and are realising it in some excitement.

I go back to this album partly because it captured the essence of that they did so beautifully. The next, which had studio production in the US by Felix Pappalardi, had its moments but wasn’t a match for this debut set. I lost track of them after that – there was a live album, and a revived trio later on. But Hodgkinson really likes to play (and sing) the blues, and Aspery was never a natural road warrior so the effective life of the trio was brief. They had their moments, as this surviving video from Montreux – where they also have Dave McRae with them on keys – shows, although for me it doesn’t have the sheer momentum, the gusto, of the short tracks on this record. Four or five others are as bouncy and beguiling as Slivadiv, but it’s a good’un.

Why the No 48? This is one of a series running (in no particular order) through 2021. I explain a bit what it’s doing here.

There’s a cumulative playlist of all the ones that can be found on Spotify

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