Gordon Beck was a British jazz pianist and composer who began working professionally in 1960, launched his first group under his own name five years later, and worked more or less consistently until retiring from the stage in 2005. He made over two dozen albums under his own name, and recorded extensively as a sideman, particularly with saxophonist Phil Woods, though he also worked with guitarist Allan Holdsworth, violinist Didier Lockwood, and others. He died in 2011.
Jubilation!: Trios, Quartets and Septets in Session 1964-1984 (get it from Amazon) is a new three-CD set drawn from Beck’s personal tape archive. It features live recordings with seven or eight different ensembles, including some solo pieces. Beck has very little profile in the US—he primarily worked in the UK and Europe—but based on this evidence, he was a fierce player in the vein of McCoy Tyner, highly lyrical and romantic, and capable of uncorking a seemingly unceasing stream of ideas. He worked extensively with trumpeter and flügelhorn player Kenny Wheeler, and had a long creative relationship with, of all people, drummer Tony Oxley, a man most Burning Ambulance readers will know from his work with Cecil Taylor. Taylor and Beck had nothing in common stylistically, but Oxley’s boxy, hammering drum style provided a solid foundation for each of them. Thirteen of the 28 tracks on this box feature Oxley on drums, and the ones on the second disc, featuring the trio MOB with bassist Ron Mathewson, are particularly fascinating, as the group goes very far out indeed, with Beck switching back and forth between acoustic and electric piano. The last track on Disc Two is an untitled improvisation (though it incorporates Bill Evans‘s “Blue in Green”) that lasts nearly 40 minutes!
The variety of material presented over the course of this set reveals Gordon Beck as a pianist more Americans should hear. He repeatedly demonstrates the ability to spin a relatively minimal melody into an extended and fascinating journey, taking mainstream acoustic jazz about as far out as it can go in the process. And while Beck is clearly the leader at all times, it’s also fascinating to hear another side of Tony Oxley.
Nothing from this box is streaming online, but here are a few videos of Beck with Kenny Wheeler, saxophonist Stan Sulzman, bassist Dieter Ilg, and Oxley: