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For some, the arrival of American tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scott's club in early June 1965 couldn't have come soon enough. By the middle-1960s, the envelope of "modern" jazz was being pushed to breaking point, both in the US and the UK, and to Scott his two visitors that summer represented the perfect antidote to all the Coltrane and Ornette-inspired "freedom". Writing in Melody Maker, he described Al and Zoot as "their own men, concerned with a brand of jazz music that is to do with swing, melodic invention, and good sounds."
Scott had long been an admirer. Indeed, he had chosen Sims as the first soloist to inaugurate his clubs policy of importing US guest artists four years earlier. When he returned again in late 1962, Sims brought his long-term confederate Cohn with him, upping the musical ante and delighting all those who'd admired the two-tenor team on record.
"Zoot and Al were pure jazz incarnate," remembers saxophonist Peter King, one of many London musicians drawn to the Americans feel-good orbit.” They loved to play, respected Stan [Tracey]'s trio and positively relished working with it. They swung their asses off night after night and had a ball, falling in love with England, the admiring audiences and the excellent musicians they met here."
Putting the visitors on record together with their UK counterparts was a logical next step, an exercise in mutual admiration masterminded by British saxophonist Jack Sharpe, a player who did a great deal to make life comfortable for touring American jazzmen. Indeed, he'd already produced three London-made recording sessions featuring a visiting US soloist, Duke Ellington star Paul Gonsalves (one of which Change of Setting, co-led by Tubby Hayes can be heard on Harkit HRKCD 8561). His fourth such effort, again taped at Lansdowne Studios in Notting Hill Gate, this time on the afternoon of Sunday June 27th 1965, was designed to showcase Cohn and Sims alongside their regular Scott club accompanists, Stan Tracey, bassist Rick Laird and drummer Jackie Dougan and two further guests, Peter King and Sharpe himself.
Despite receiving some enthusiastic press reviews, including a glowing appraisal in Melody Maker, which noted the albums "highly professional jazz...concerned with form and coherence...and a belief that jazz should communicate with the paying customer", the LP quickly went out of print. Having also never received a US release, it soon became one of Cohn and Sims most sought-after recordings.
Although the session and its back story are very much part and parcel of the Golden Era of British jazz, and of the whole zeitgeist of the early years of Ronnie Scott's club, the music on Al and Zoot In London itself stands very much on its own timeless merits. But then Cohn and Sims had never chased fashion. Interviewed by Max Jones in Melody Maker in summer 1967, a few months before this album was released, Zoot Sims observed how his and his partners preferred style had begun to sound "kind of mainstream" when compared to the pioneers of the avant-garde. At the time, fierce debate was raging in the pages of the jazz press about whether the idiom itself was dying, a victim of the scorched earth explorations of the new wave. Jones asked Sims if he thought the music was on its way out. His answer was as characteristically unpretentious as his playing; "I always say one thing: jazz has been dying for 70 years and it's going to last a lot longer than the record we're making now."
Fifty-years on, that record is back, alive and kicking and sounding as good as ever!
Excerpted from the accompanying notes by Simon Spillett
© 2016 Harkit Records
| 1. Shoft (Cohn)