Chris McGregor Group, The - Very Urgent (CD)









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This 1968 reissue (originally released on Polydor) belongs with 60s and early-70s recordings by Tony Oxley, Keith Tippett and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble: uncompromising jazz-improv from little-known UK artists on a major, pop-oriented label - an inconceivable notion now. Exiled South African pianist Chris McGregor's musicians were a volcanic force on the British scene. In its unrelenting collective intensity, this set might surprise a few John Zorn admirers in being this far out, this far back; in fact, the fiery South African ensemble was joining the raucous all-night dialogues of the townships shebeens to the American free-jazz of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The luxuriously dirgey Marie My Dear is an Ellington-esque last-dance smooch, but with the late, great alto saxist Dudu Pukwana erupting like a hybrid of Ornette and Johnny Hodges. Hearts' Vibrations is Zorn-like in its bursts of collective wailing punctuated by dead stops, The Sounds Begin Again has a bebop line that hurtles off into free-playing through trumpeter Mongezi Feza's bubbling-lava phrases, and Don't Stir the Beehive (the richest and most dynamically varied track) is like a New Orleans funeral dirge that becomes a deranged dance, powered by Louis Moholo's dramatic drumming. This was a world-class free-band, and it's great to have the evidence back.