Label: Mr Bongo.
In 1969, thirty-six year old Ian Carr who was born Dumfries, in the South West Scotland, formed Nucleus who would become one of the top British fusion groups. By then, the Scottish trumpeter was a familiar face on the London jazz scene.
He had been member of the Emcee Five, co-led the Rendell–Carr Quintet, played with the New Jazz Orchestra and the Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva Quartet. However, Nucleus was a new beginning for Ian Carr.
Within a year, Nucleus had signed to the Harvest label and released their groundbreaking debut album Elastic Rock in March 1970. The album sounded as if it had been inspired by Miles Davis 1969 albums Filles de Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way. However, Ian Carr later admitted that he hadn’t heard In A Silent Way. Elastic Rock was an ambitious and innovative album but sadly wasn’t a commercial success.
It was a similar story when We’ll Talk About It Later was released by Vertigo in 1971. Nucleus’ sophomore album failed to find the audience it deserved. It must have been frustrating for Ian Carr as the group were one of the pioneers of British fusion. Meanwhile, British record buyers had been won over by American fusion and especially Miles Davis’ 1970 classic album Bitches Brew which was was certified silver in Britain.
Later in 1971 when the group returned with a new album Solar Plexus and this time, they were billed as Ian Carr with Nucleus. Despite the new name and another groundbreaking album of ambitious fusion it also failed commercially. For founder Ian Carr this was hugely disappointing and resulted in a rethink for the thirty-eight year trumpeter.
After the commercial failure of Nucleus’ first three albums the group decided to call time on their career. They had been together just two years and released three unsuccessful albums. By then, Nucleus were experiencing financial problems and the group disbanded. It looked like a sad end to the story of one of the groups who pioneered fusion in Britain.
Ian Carr decided to change tack and began work on his debut solo album. It became Belladonna which was released by Vertigo in 1972 and featured some of the top British jazz musicians. This included percussionist Brian Smith who by 1972 was the only remaining original member of Nucleus.
For his much-anticipated debut album Ian Carr wrote four of the six tracks. This included Belladonna, Summer Rain, Mayday and Suspension. Remadione and Hector’s House were written by reeds player Brian Smith. These six tracks were recorded at Phonogram Studios, in London, with engineer Roger Wake.
Ian Carr played trumpet and flugelhorn on Belladonna. He was joined by a rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Clive Thacker, bassist Roy Babbington and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They were joined by Brian Smith who switched between tenor and soprano saxophones plus alto and bamboo flutes. Augmenting the band on some tracks were percussionist Trevor Tomkins, Dave MacRae on Fender electric piano and Gordon Beck on Hohner electric piano. This all-star band played accompanied Ian Carr as he embarked upon his solo career.
Although Belladonna was well received when it was released in 1972, the album wasn’t a commercial success. This was hugely disappointing for Ian Carr given the quality of music on the album.
The music on Belladonna was atmospheric, ethereal and sometimes headed in the direction of avant-garde and experimental music. Other times the music is broody, moody, dark and dramatic. However, most of the time it’s fusion by one of its pioneers in Britain, Ian Carr. He really understands how to combine jazz and rock and leads a band who do this seamlessly. Sometimes this all-star band combines fusion and funk to good effect.
Opening Belladonna is the title-track which is a slice of funky fusion that’s been heavily influenced by Nucleus. However, at the end it’s all change as Ian Carr’s lone trumpet is accompanied by steel percussion.
Then on Summer Rain the introduction of an electric piano plays an important part in sound and success of the track. It meanders along and a stunning example of fusion unfolds as the band showcase their considerable skills.
Initially, Remadione has a late night smokey jazz sound thanks to Ian Carr’s trumpet. Space has been left in the arrangement allowing it breath as a glistening electric piano drifts in and out before there’s a nod to Dexter Gordon on Round About Midnight. At 1:49 it’s all change as the arrangement takes on a much more traditional fusion sound. Playing a starring role is guitarist Allan Holdsworth who unleashes one of his finest performances on the album. He’s accompanied by the electric piano and the transformation of the track is complete. From there, the band move through the gears heading for home on one of the album’s highlights.
The hissing hi-hats and wah-wah chords during the funky introduction to Mayday are reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. Soon, the horns combine with the rhythm section and shimmering Fender Rhodes and is later replaced by Allan Holdsworth’s rhythm guitar. Along with Brian Smith’s saxophone that play leading roles before Ian Carr’s trumpet rejoins as this example of funky fusion reaches a crescendo.
Very different is Suspension which is atmospheric, moody, haunting and cinematic. It sounds like part of the soundtrack to horror movie. That’s still the case when the horn takes centrestage and is accompanies by a plodding base, chirping guitar and stabs of electric piano. When all this is combined the result is a haunting filmic track that shows another side to Ian Carr and his multitalented and versatile band.
Closing Belladonna is Hector’s House which was also the name of a British children’s television show in the early seventies. Once again, the band enjoys the opportunity to stretch their legs as the tempo rises and showcase their skills during solos. Saxophonist Brian Smith looks like playing the starring role. Then Allan Holdsworth unleashes a spellbinding guitar solo played with speed and accuracy. The rest of the rhythm section and electric drive the arrangement along before it reaches a crescendo. By then it’s obvious that Ian Carr and his band have saved the best until last.
Although Belladonna wasn’t a commercial success the album later started to find an audience and nowadays is regarded as a cult classic. It was Ian Carr’s debut album and sadly he only released one more solo album Old Heartland in 1989. However, Belladonna was his finest solo album and is a reminder of one of the pioneers of British fusion at peak of his powers.