Not only was British trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton a fine musician, but he was also a tireless promoter of and advocate for good jazz in the British Isles, engaging in all sorts of activities, from making popular records like "Bad Penny Blues" to organizing jazz festivals to hosting radio and television shows. Steeped in New Orleans jazz and swing since he taught himself to play the trumpet, Lyttelton became one of the most prominent figures of the so-called trad jazz movement in Britain in the 1950s along with other big names such as Chris Barber and Ken Colyer. By the mid-1970s, when he cut this session with tenorist Buddy Tate, he'd been active in British jazz circles for well over 20 years and was highly respected. Born in Sherman, TX, in 1913, Tate came straight out of the Swing Era and soon became prominent through his work with the Count Basie Orchestra, where he replaced tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans. Throughout his career, Tate led a number of fantastic recording sessions, fronted a band for over 20 years at the Celebrity Club in Harlem, and was a frequent visitor to Europe. It was precisely during one of these visits, when he played the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1974, that this little-known session with Lyttelton and a host of fine British musicians took place.
The eight tracks that comprise Swinging Scorpio (Black Lion) were recorded at London's Pye Studios on July 3, 1974, and find Lyttelton (trumpet, clarinet) and Tate (tenor sax, clarinet) in the company of Bruce Turner (alto sax, clarinet), Kathleen Stobart (tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet), Mick Pyne (piano), Dave Green (bass), and Tony Mann (drums). This is the type of studio band that Lyttelton often put together for specific recording sessions, and all musicians involved have a thorough understanding of the swing idiom and are able accompanists to a giant like Tate. Legendary trumpeter Buck Clayton contributed all the original compositions and arrangements for the date, mostly because by the mid-1970s, he'd retired from playing and had concentrated on writing and arranging for medical reasons. In fact, Clayton wasn't able to attend the session due to health problems, but the charts he devised here are all the work of a master arranger with very clear ideas about how a small swing band should sound. The blues inflections we can hear on Clayton's own playing can be heard throughout this session, from "Kansas City Woman," with a lovely baritone sax solo from Stobart, to "Swinging Scorpio," which features a solid piano solo from Pyne. Clayton's ensemble writing is very exciting on uptempo numbers ("Outswinger," "Steevos," "Clarinet Lemonade") and his charts leave quite a bit of room for solos by Tate and Lyttelton. The only ballad that came out of this session, "The One for Me," shows that Clayton could also turn in sensitive slow tunes, and this one benefits from some highly restrained contributions from Lyttelton, Tate, and Pyne. All in all, this session is the work of a master saxophonist who was still in fine form in his sixties and is supported by a very sympathetic group of outstanding British musicians, and as such, it deserves to be heard.
|Humphrey Lyttelton with Duke Ellington.|