|Label||Be With Records|
What a record! The outstanding Solar Plexus, the much-loved third album from Ian Carr and Nucleus, was first released on Vertigo in 1971. Inevitably, original copies are now very tricky to score and, like all the Nucleus records, it’s aged ridiculously well. This Be With re-issue, re-mastered from the original analogue tapes, shows off just why this deserves to be back in press.
Genius trumpeter and visionary composer Ian Carr was one of the most respected British musicians of his era. He was a true pioneer and saw the potential in fusing the worlds of jazz with rock, just as Miles Davis and The Tony Williams Lifetime did in the US. In late 1969, following the demise of the Rendell-Carr quintet, and tiring of British jazz, Carr assembled the legendary Nucleus. Regarding music as a continuous process, Nucleus refused to “recognise rigid boundaries” and worked on delivering what they saw as a “total musical experience”. We can get behind that.
Under bandleader Carr, Nucleus existed as a fluid line-up of inventive, skilled musicians. This constant evolution and revolution was all part of the continuous musical exploration and discovery that took jazz to new levels. And the music has kept relevant. To steal a line from a review of our re-issue of Roots, when it comes to anything Nucleus “it’s basically already hip-hop”.
We'll let Ian describe this one: "I wrote Solar Plexus' last year with the help of an Arts Council grant. It is based on two short themes which are stated at the beginning (Elements I & I1). The first theme is angular and has a slow, crab-like movement: the second theme is direct, simple and diatonic. CHANGING TIME and SPIRIT LEVEL explore the first theme and BEDROCK DEADLOCK and TORSO explore the second one. SNAKEHIPS DREAM tries to fuse both themes. (The title is a reference to the famous dancer 'Snakehips' Johnson)."
Solar Plexus features the same lineup as Elastic Rock and We'll Talk About It Later, but they're augmented by six guests, three of which play brass. Carr himself had almost full control of the writing and it does feel very different to the previous albums. It's more of a jazz record loosely based on a rock foundation rather than jazz fusion jamming.
The haunting synth-and-bass soundscape "Elements I and II" opens the album in dramatic, experimental fashion. It gives way to the bright, funky feel-good jazz of "Changing Times". An elegant onslaught of horns, courtesy of guests Kenny Wheeler and Harry Beckett, ride a solid groove for the duration. How the brass refrains have eluded samplers is beyond us. The melancholic "Bedrock Deadlock" features the brooding majesty of Jenkins' oboe and Clyne's mournful, skittering double bass. Wah wah guitar, drums and funky percussion then take over before the horns ride us out over frenetic beats. The dark, angular "Spirit Level" is a real highlight, by turns harmonic and beautiful then dissonant and wayward. Wonky jazz with no apparent structure or melodic bones. Regardless, it represents a great showcase for each virtuoso performer.
The breezy soul of "Torso" feels like a breath of fresh air, skipping along in the uptempo style with guitar, horns, drums and bass. A track which truly sounds scintillating, featuring sax solos, fantastic propulsive interplay from all the group around the halfway stage before Marshall gets his chance to really shine in closing out with a polyrhythmic drum solo. Final track "Snakehips' Dream" stretches cooly out over 15 minutes to round out a spellbinding album. An epic, suave groove, it's a relaxing piece with warm electric keys, laconic guitar and languorous horns. Truly sophisticated soulful jazz. An absolute masterclass. We could easily listen to this all day long.
This Be With edition of Solar Plexus has been re-mastered from the original Vertigo master tapes, Simon Francis’ mastering working together with Cicely Balston's cut at AIR Studios to weave their usual magic with these wonderful recordings. The stunning gatefold sleeve has been restored to complete this sensational package.
Elements I & II