Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.

By 1974, composer and pianist Mike Westbrook was thirty-eight and one of the leading lights of the British jazz scene. He had come a long way since he formed his first band in 1958 when he was an art student studying painting. That was how he came to meet Lou Gare, Keith Rowe and John Surman.

Four years later, in 1962, Mike Westbrook moved to London, and was soon leading bands big and small. He played numbers venues including Ronnie Scott’s original jazz club The Old Place as well as  the Little Theatre Club at Garrick Yard, St Martin’s Lane. Along with Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Mike Westbrook shared the role of the house band at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. All this was part of Mike Westbrook’s apprenticeship and stood him in good stead.

Throughout the sixties, he  played an important part in the development of jazz in Britain, and led The Mike Westbrook Concert Band between 1967 and 1969. It featured anywhere between ten and twenty-six musicians and included some of the top British jazz musicians, including his friend John Surman. 

In 1967, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band was signed to the Deram label and released the first of five albums they released between 1967 and 1970. This included 1967s Celebration and in 1968, which was the year they appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band released their much-anticipated sophomore album Release. The following year 1969, two albums  Marching Song Volumes 1 and 2 were released and featured one of the best British jazz bands at the peak of their powers. Sadly, their swan-song was 1970s Mike Westbrook’s Love Songs and by then, Mike Westbrook was embracing fusion which was growing in popularity. 

As the seventies dawned, Mike Westbrook embarked upon several  new projects. Adrian Mitchell asked him to work on his musical Tyger, which was a celebration of William Blake which was staged by the Royal National Theatre in 1971.The same year Tyger was released by RCA in 1971.

Another project that was released in 1971 was Metropolis, which was based on Mike Westbrook’s initial impressions of visiting London. This was a project that Mike Westbrook had been working on for a couple of years and at last it bore fruit.

The BBC broadcasted The Mike Westbrook Concert Band playing Metropolis live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Tuesday the ’25th’ November 1969. Just a couple of months later, on the ‘9th’ of January 1970, an enlarged lineup of The Mike Westbrook Concert Band recorded Metropolis for BBC Radio 3. When Metropolis as released in 1971, this was just the latest ambitious release from Mike Westbrook.

During 1972 and 1973, Mike Westbrook was busy with his jazz-rock band Solid Gold Cadillac. It featured vocalist and trumpeter Phil Minton, who would lend his voice to many of Mike Westbrook’s later projects. However, the following year 1974, Mike Westbrook was reunited with another of his friends for a new project.

In 1974, Mike Westbrook was commissioned by Sveriges (Swedish) Radio to write what became Citadel/Room 315, which was a one hour-long, eleven track suite, which featured John Surman as the lead soloist.

Having completed Citadel/Room 315, Mike Westbrook travelled to Sweden perform and conduct it for the first time, live in concert. Joining his was John Surman who would play baritone and soprano saxophone, as well as bass clarinet. They would be accompanied by an all-star band that featured some of Sweden’s finest and most experienced musicians.

This was The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, a sixteen piece group that was led by saxophonist and clarinetist Arne Domnérus and Argentinian trumpeter Americo Bellotto. Members of this multi-talented group had accompanied everyone from Stan Getz and George Russell to Monica Zetterlund and Jan Johansson. 

Their number included drummer Egil Johansen, drummer, percussionist and vibraphonist Jan Bandel, bassist Stefan Brolun, guitarist Rune Gustafsson and pianist Bengt Hallberg. The horn section included trombonist Lars Olofsson, bass trombonist and tubaist Sven Larsson, trumpeter and alto horn player Jan Allan, tenor saxophone and flautist Claes Rosendahl and trumpeter Bertil Lövgren who also played flugelhorn. Many musicians were multi-instrumentalists flautist Lennart Åberg who played tenor and soprano saxophone, while Lennart Åberg could play tenor and soprano saxophone as well as flute. Erik Nilsson would switch between  baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute, and trumpeter Håkan Nyquist played flugelhorn and French horn. 

While Mike Westbrook was going to conduct The Swedish Radio Jazz Group, he would play electric piano on Citadel/Room 315. His friend John Surman would switch between baritone and soprano saxophone and bass clarinet during the eleven track suite that lasted one hour. 

During Citadel/Room 315, Michael Westbrook his star soloist John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group flit between disparate musical genres during this eclectic suite. There’s everything from fusion and funk to avant-garde, ballads, big band and orchestral themes. 

Michael Westbrook understands the importance of making an impression and the opening track Overture certainly does that. A lone piano is joined by blazing horns and soon, the arrangement is swinging as this multitalented band kick loose and set the bar high for the rest of Citadel/Room 315. Then on Construction, elements of fusion, funk and library music can be heard before the track threatens to head in the direction of free jazz during this eight minute epic jam. 

Pistache is something of an emotional roller coaster and initially is dark and dramatic before becoming understated and thoughtful sounding and later becomes takes on a melancholy sound. As Love and Understanding gradually unfolds and the tension builds during a truly beautiful and ruminative sounding cinematic track. 

Quite different is Love and Understanding which is best described as funky big band music with John Surman playing a starring role. One of the most beautiful sounding tracks is the ballad Tender Love, where the band play within themselves on one of the album’s highlights. It’s all change on Bebop de Rigueur where the band go up through the gears and then kick loose and swing during this all action workout.

The piano led Pastarole lasts 14:40 and initially, is pensive sounding and invites reflection but eventually, Bertil Lövegren‘s trumpet solo takes centre-stage. Soon, the tempo increases as horns intertwine and are played with speed and power during what’s one of the most ambitious pieces on Citadel/Room 315. So is Sleepwalker Awaking In Sunlight where John Surman’s solo takes centrestage before guitarist Rune Gustafsson enjoys his moment in the sun during this truly memorable freewheeling track.

Initially, there’s a  sense of melancholia as Outgoing Song unfolds and it’s always there even when the horns soar high above the arrangement before it dissipates. Then  Finale sees Mike Westbrook, John Surman and The Swedish Radio Jazz Group close the album on a high. It’s no wonder that they receive a standing ovation from an appreciative audience. That is no surprise.

When Mike Westbrook travelled to record Citadel/Room 315 for Sveriges (Swedish) Radio he was one of the leading lights of British jazz. He composed, conducted and played electric piano during the performance of Citadel/Room 315 and was joined by lead soloist John Surman a multitalented band. They played with a freedom, energy and sometimes there was a rawness in their playing. The result  was a very different album to the polished studio album, Citadel/Room 315 that was released in 1975.

Sadly, the recording of Citadel/Room 315 from 1974 lay in the vaults of Sveriges (Swedish) Radio  for forty-six year. It looked as if this hugely important concert would never be heard by jazz fans. That was until 2020

A year later and this lost album is now regarded as  a cult classic. That’s no surprise as the concert features Mike Westbrook and John Surman,  two titans of British jazz at the peak of their considerable creative powers. They both play starring roles in the sound and success of Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74, which is a must-have for anyone who is interested in jazz, and especially British jazz. Quite simply, Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74 is an album that belongs in their collection.

Lost Cult Classic: Mike Westbrook-Love and Understanding: Citadel/Room 315 Sweden 74.

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