Mark-Almond: Mark-Almond

MarkAlmond_MarkAlmondA neglected early ‘70s British rock-jazz classic

Guitarist Jon Mark and wind player and percussionist Johnny Almond met in 1969 as members of John Mayall’s band. Upon their departure from Mayall in 1970, they formed this eponymous quartet (not to be confused with Soft Cell’s Marc Almond!) with bassist Rodger Sutton and keyboardist Tommy Eyre. As with the music they recorded with Mayall, Mark and Almond chose a drummerless configuration that continued to work surprisingly well. Eyre’s piano, Sutton’s bass and Mark’s rhythm playing each take turns holding down the beat, leaving the others free to jam and improvise.

The album’s original five tracks clocked in at forty minutes, with two suites (“City” and “Love”) stretching past eleven minutes apiece. This provided the players – all four – a lot space to stretch out and interplay. The opening “The Ghetto” is a gospel soul number with a moving lyric of desperation set to a vocal chorus and Eyre’s perfect mix of acoustic and electric piano. Almond’s superb sax solo is perfectly set in a middle section between the hushed vocals of the opening and closing.

“The City” has a short lyric of escape, but quickly gives way to a jazz-tinged instrumental that provides each player a chance to shine. Sutton’s bass flows underneath as Almond takes a sax solo and Eyre vamps on piano, the two occasionally joining one another for to riff. Sutton steps to the front for a short interlude before Almond returns on flute; a few minutes later the song turns heavy with Mark’s low twanging guitar and assorted hand percussion.

The moody “Tramp and the Young Girl” hits blue notes in both its vocal melody and the tragic disposition of its title characters. The bass, electric piano, vibraphone and flute provide superb backing for Mark’s perfectly wrought, jazz-tinged vocal. Things pick up for “Love,” a suite that opens in a renaissance style before transitioning into a percussive, bass- and vibe-led middle section. The song’s vocal is a short, blues should, which leads to an ear-clearing, calling-all-dogs sax solo and a mellower instrumental play out.

What’s truly impressive about this band – aside from the talent of the four players – is its range between songs and within suites. The compositions carry over the ballroom jam of the ‘60s, but tighten them up and expand the instrumental and musical palettes, much as did Traffic, Steely Dan and others. It’s hard to imagine how this album was allowed to fall out of print; even Line’s German reissue disappeared. Varese’s domestic issue augments the original five tracks with a pair of single edits and a four-page booklet that includes liner notes by Jerry McCulley. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.