Tribute to Rico

Guitarist Cris Gill recalls and pays tribute to Rico, the great Specials and Jazz Jamaica trombonist who Cris played together with in Rico & His Band “I met Rico about thirty years ago in London in the late 1980s when Rico made a surprise guest …

Published: 7 Nov 2019. Updated: 6 months.

Guitarist Cris Gill recalls and pays tribute to Rico, the great Specials and Jazz Jamaica trombonist who Cris played together with in Rico & His Band

“I met Rico about thirty years ago in London in the late 1980s when Rico made a surprise guest appearance with the band I was playing guitar in at the time — a ska band called The Trojans (formed by Gaz Mayall, son of blues musician John Mayall). The Trojans were performing in the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, west London, and we had a large band room to prepare for the gig. When I arrived for the gig I was shocked to find Rico there warming up and doubly shocked to hear Charlie Parker lines.

“Apart from the joy of playing with Rico I was delighted to have the chance to talk with him about music and his interest in jazz, the first of many illuminating conversations during our friendship over the years. I discovered that Rico and I had a shared interest and admiration for many of the same great jazz artists from Count Basie with Lester Young and Freddie Green to Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and many great artists from the early to mid twentieth century.

“I had been born into a jazz and blues filled household in 1960; my father was a band leader (Mick Gill’s Imperial Jazz Band) and part of the late 1940s post-war Trad Jazz revival in England. From as early as I can remember there was usually music playing in the house, either from my parents’ collection of jazz and blues records or from jam sessions in the living room. I had discovered Rico’s music when his LP Man From Wareika (1977) was first released and arrived in the record shop I was working in, my stepfather’s jazz specialist music store Peter Russell’s Hot Record Store in Plymouth.

“When Rico decided to form his own new band, around 1990 (his first since the 1970s), and he wanted me to be a part of it playing guitar — I was honoured. This band performed and recorded over five years or so under the name Rico & His Band. Later during this period Rico was also a member of Jazz Jamaica but Rico often said to me that his band was more like a family to him and that some of the happiest times for him were when playing with his own band, with the rare musical freedom it provided. The set included many jazz songs/tunes, as well as Rico’s own originals. Rico loved to ‘keep it real’ during gigs and would often quickly brief the bass player before starting into a tune which most of the band had never played or heard before; these spontaneous arrangements are some of my most memorable and enjoyable musical highlights.

“Rico’s recognisable sound attracted the attention of many successful artists and his magical sound can be heard on many commercial recordings over several decades. One rare crossing of musical paths was when the great British jazz saxophonist Lol Coxhill sought out Rico and sat in on several gigs. Once whilst sound checking, Rico and Lol were playing a medley of Caribbean tunes together, some of which I recognised. After the sound check I asked Lol how he knew so many of the tunes he was playing with Rico, Lol replied ‘I’ve never heard them before…’ The gigs with Lol were always remarkable.

“During that time Rico appeared many times with The Trojans, including a tour of Japan, and on several recordings. Rico’s deep understanding of rhythm and his finesse with melodic timing added a unique majesty to the sound of the band with his inspirational solos always being the high point.

“By way of my personal tribute to Rico I feel very fortunate indeed to have been a part of Rico’s music for a few years and to have enjoyed a friendship from which I learned so much about music, wisdom and life.”

Rico Rodriguez above left with Lol Coxhill (photo: Cordelia Weedon)

Tags: Guest posts

Jan Garbarek, The Hilliard Ensemble – Remember Me, My Dear, ECM New Series ****

ECM celebrating its fiftieth anniversary soon has often delighted in a riddle, in this case when Manfred Eicher first paired a jazz saxophonist, the greatest European jazz musician since Django Reinhardt no less, with a celebrated early music vocal …

Published: 7 Nov 2019. Updated: 6 months.

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ECM celebrating its fiftieth anniversary soon has often delighted in a riddle, in this case when Manfred Eicher first paired a jazz saxophonist, the greatest European jazz musician since Django Reinhardt no less, with a celebrated early music vocal group and somehow made the collision of styles match and fuse.

Officium was a big seller and beyond sales it somehow had a numinous quality that its subsequent albums possessed to a certain extent but could not dream of repeating that once in a lifetime alchemy. Hearing Garbarek in St Paul’s cathedral some years ago, indeed hearing him in any cathedral, he has played in quite a few, in this context of a Swiss church makes sense but in certain ways and this applies to his jazz output, Garbarek journeys beyond the religious and spiritual deeply into the realms of the humane. Its haunting qualities invade and that is part of the unique majesty of the sound secular or not because Garbarek as the main protagonist (the Hilliards are largely his backing singers) has a profound sound and as listeners you could say we forget that he is playing the saxophone – because essentially he is rendering his lifetime song: a factor easily discernible on his famed collaborations in the “Belonging” band with Keith Jarrett, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. Recorded in 2014 the album says hello goodbye to a collaboration that lasted half of the length of ECM itself and is book ended by Komitas and the title track, an anonymous 16th century Scottish song. Skip the ordering if you like and dive into the elegiac ‘Allting finns’ followed by ‘We Are the Stars’ for the Garbarek compositions. Remember Me, My Dear also includes the beautiful ‘Most Holy Mother of God’ by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt among other material and where would we be without a 12th century piece by Hildegard von Bingen? Bereft possibly – incidentally a feeling thankfully entirely absent among these very uplifting sounds.