The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
When I met the thunderous tenor saxophonist Larry Stabbins after his powerful gig at the London Jazz Festival last November, we talked about one of his heroes, Sonny Rollins, whom we had both heard the night before at his memorable Barbican concert.
"I love Rollins because of the strength and beauty of his sound, his astonishing invention and the chances that he takes," declared Stabbins, and hearing his own horn sound, you might say something very similar about him.
Stabbins was born in Bristol in 1949, the city that was the birthplace of two British jazz giants of the same generation, saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Keith Tippett.
It was clarinet at eight, saxophone at 11 and his first enthusiasms were James Brown and Junior Walker, but at 16 he met and played with Tippett before moving to London and supporting himself with club and studio work.
He also threw himself into free jazz and improvising circles with John Stevens, Eddie Prevost, Tony Oxley, Louis Moholo-Moholo and Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath.
By 1983 Stabbins had teamed up with guitarist Simon Booth to create Working Week and their first record was Booth's Venceremos, specially geared to Latin soul-jazz club dancers and dedicated to the murdered Chilean singer/guitarist Victor Jara and a benefit for the Chile Solidarity Campaign.
The new double CD compilation of Working Week music, Working Nights, has been issued by Cherry Red Records and carries in its sounds a vibrant spirit of its age, with interventions from some prime British jazz soloists.
Hear trumpeter Guy Barker launch his horn from the ensemble jazz-rock midst of Thought I'd Never See You Again, Moholo pounding through Stella Marina or Harry Beckett's trumpet touching the peaks on No Cure, No Pay. And Stabbins pierces through the melee with a ferocious tenor on Pepe's Samba and a joyous soprano on Autumn Boy and the jazz-dance special version of Venceremos.
In 2002 Stabbins recorded an album of solo soprano and tenor improvisations, Modadic.
He had first played solo at Ronnie Scott's Upstairs venue in 1972, during Keith Tippett's small group Ovary Lodge's tenure, and at various times and venues through the '70s and '80s. In his sleeve notes Martin Davidson reminds us that "monadic" means "like a monad, or isolated single unit of being," the antithesis of the hugely collectivised and communal sound of Working Week.
Every track is titled as a present participle, beginning with Breathing, the saxophone like Turner's steamship horn, but in a becalmed yet menacing sea. His tenor rocks and vibrates in Singing while in the long Thinking the notes ever-surprising, several times seeming to be on the cusp of melody.
Loving employs the soprano saxophone with tenderness and grace, exquisite in its phraseology. Monadic is a wondrous, surprising and beautifully birdlike album - listen to Chirruping, the testimony of a true and unsung British master of the saxophone.
In 2012 Stabbins, now known as "Stonephace" Stabbins was leading a quintet which cut the album Transcendental with Karl Rasheed Abel on bass, Crispin "Spry" Robinson on Afro-Cuban percussion, Pat Illingworth on drums and the marvellous Zoe Rahman featuring on piano.
"She is amazing," he told me. "I'm very lucky that she plays with me." Their mutual empathy is impressive. His oft-times volcanic sound seems to make her hit her keys harder, and her astonishing inventiveness inspires, he suggests, greater complexity and subtlety within his own musicianship.
He met his four bandmates in the ranks of Jerry Dammers's very large Spatial AKA Orchestra, and the fivesome often carry timbral echoles of a big band, nowhere more than on the opener, Coltrane's Africa, where Stabbins's huge surge, Rahman's percussive keys and Robinson's conga undertow create a titanic and ancestral sound, taking the hornman back to his 13th birthday in 1962 when he bought Coltrane's epochal Africa Brass album.
Immanence is a short but telling flute/piano duet, Abel's earthen bass delves beneath the tarmac on Yellow Brick Road and Transcendental Euphoria is a salute to Coltrane's great tenor confrere Pharaoh Sanders, with Stabbins's muscular solo anticipating a volley of anthemic notes from Rahman, before Robinson's hand-pounded drums preface Stabbins's final roaring chorus.
There is a sense of summation in Transcendental, a unity of generations and genres centreing around Stabbins's unique musical life's journey.
From Coltrane to free improvisation to R&B and soul-jazz to the effusive meeting place of this fine album, a staging post to the future for five always adventurous musicians.
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