History-making Free At Last drummer Clarence Becton has died at the age of 88

Clarence Becton who made jazz history as the drummer on Mal Waldron trio recording Free at Last died on 24 June in Amsterdam where he had been living since 1981. He was 88. His death in the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis hospital was reported yesterday …

Published: 2 Jul 2022. Updated: 39 days.

Clarence Becton who made jazz history as the drummer on Mal Waldron trio recording Free at Last died on 24 June in Amsterdam where he had been living since 1981. He was 88. His death in the Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis hospital was reported yesterday by the Dutch Jazzenzo jazz magazine. There are no details of cause of death.

The Mississippi-born musician and educator was on the first ever ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) album issued at the end of 1969 and numbered ''1001''. Before moving to Munich in 1969 in the US he had worked with among others saxophonist Don Menza and Beckton is highly impressive keeping time and providing a rugged feel on 1964's epic sounding 'Spanish Boots'. He had also toured widely with singer Jon Hendricks before moving to Munich, the city - then and now - the label's home.

In Germany Beckton worked with among other leaders the Billie Holiday pianist Waldron who was composer of such beloved standards to John Coltrane fans as 'Soul Eyes' interpreted so wondrously in recent years by Kandace Springs. In the 1970s the drummer went on to play on an Impulse recording by violinist Michael White, Father Music, Mother Dance. Later work in the 1980s included the Burton Greene Quartet's One Love Music. Waldron died in 2002. Free at Last's third member double bassist Isla Eckinger passed away last year.

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John Taylor Sextet, Fragment, Jazz in Britain ****

Filling a sizable gap and fulfilling the resolution of a certain mystery for new generation listeners there are few if any finer archival English jazz releases from the 1970s currently on active circulation than Fragment and that now gains a …

Published: 2 Jul 2022. Updated: 5 days.

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Filling a sizable gap and fulfilling the resolution of a certain mystery for new generation listeners there are few if any finer archival English jazz releases from the 1970s currently on active circulation than Fragment and that now gains a first-time release on CD in addition to digital.

In the years after John Taylor's death a new generation's appreciation of the pianist, composer and bandleader's artistry has mushroomed. Pablo Held, the world class German pianist for one, has been a champion of the man fans called ''JT'' and an acknowledger of the debt that he himself owes his former teacher.

Back in 2012 I recall a Jazz Line-Up recording session for BBC Radio 3 that I attended at Broadcasting House in W1A celebrating the 70th birthday of the pianist. The solo pieces at the beginning of that concert, which included ‘Coniston’, and ‘Ambleside’, with their evocation of the places and people of the Lake District, as Taylor explained in conversation with presenter Claire Martin, were a jolt in terms of immediacy and distinctive style with their deftly probing improvising lines drawn from the pools of the pianist’s experience.

It’s not surprising in the least the influence Taylor has had on a new generation of players, including pianist Richard Fairhurst and who later in the concert joined Taylor to perform some arranged pieces for two pianos including the evening’s highlight for me, a beautiful rendition of Bill Evans’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’, with Taylor’s modal grasp a thing to behold as Fairhurst carried the melody line.

After the initial solo pieces heard at the concert Taylor was joined by Spin Marvel drummer Martin France, saxophonist Julian Siegel of Partisans, and double bassist Chris Laurence, the latter known for his longstanding work with Taylor but also with Andy Sheppard for many years. Laurence and Taylor clearly showed their mutual empathy and the extended range to his double bass, sparingly used, captured some sense of the satisfying stillness that Taylor’s writing seems to bring out as did his mobility on ‘Calypso 53’ inspired by Kurt Vonnegut.

Late in the concert original Sons of Kemet tuba player Oren Marshall joined Taylor for a duo, and then became part of the ensemble, adding an extra sonic dimension to a programme that had surprising width, but nonetheless was only a small glimpse of Taylor’s musical world. His roots in Evansiana were one of the main features for sure, and recent tunes such as music from Requiem for A Dreamer were quite superb.

Turning again to the decades-earlier Fragment very much a band record which is part of the appeal the main interest is how the horns are arranged and in turn how they then interact with Taylor, the aforementioned Laurence and drummer/percussionist Tony Levin who are the rhythm section.

Not so fast: there is also even if stretching the point slightly an internal rhythm section beyond the head-theme-return-to-head structure of the fine pieces in the sense that there is a lot of cross-fertilisation even in the choruses that the three horns players deliver and when they play in unison there is power which of course is important in any rhythmical statement whether emphasised or not. Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann and Chris Pyne display inspiring chemistry and character in the meshing of reed and horn both of the individual and of the ensemble.

There is a real furnace to 'Interfusion,' touches of the adagio of the 'Concierto de Aranjuez' to the title track led by Taylor on Fender Rhodes and then a township feel to the voicings of the horns here that is very appealing, a plangent ache and huge bluesiness folded into the sound.

'Irene' at the end has a Chick Corea flavour (specifically a simpatico spirit to 'What Games Shall We Play Today?'). Jazz in Britain note that Fragment was only every obtainable on a cassette so in other words not very then (given the fragility of even the best quality tapes and because most people preferred vinyl in the 1970s) and certainly impossible to get beyond highly nocturnal ridiculously discerning collectorville until release last month now.

Classic trio record Decipher preceded this release and before that Pause, And Think Again a recording that has far more in common with Fragment in its fiery jazz-rock and freebop outlook. You can't help but thinking, final word, because this is available - that for three, yet again, this particular third coming, is indeed a magic number - when the hurly-burly's done, the battle's lost and won. So, rain-streaked hard won northern English melancholia that sometimes has a street feel, or as often as not the lonesomeness of the moor given the windswept extensive panorama of the Taylor vision. For the unborn or those still in the pram when Fragment was created surely all in all nothing short of an astonishing revelation. Stephen Graham

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