Somnambule - Writing About Music

Nucleus ~ The Pretty Redhead

This release pairs two Nucleus dates, the first from 1971, the other from 1982. Song For The Bearded Lady (a strangely whimsical title for such energetic music) begins with ninety seconds’ worth of lovely floating music left like vapour trails on a clear blue sky. Then, presaged by a unison line of sax and trumpet, the rhythm kicks in. It’s a tricky, groovy rhythm redolent of the 60s, but it’s so fleet, so energetic that its temporal specificity is forgotten almost as it is realised. The interaction between rhythm section and the rest of the group is beauteous to behold. Special mention to Chris Spedding who undertakes some wonderfully off the wall guitar runs.

Elastic Rock reins in the tempo, gives a wry melodic glance out at the world and proceeds with an enjoyable string of solos. The pace takes after the title, speeding up and slowing down, darting this way and that. Snakehips Dream follows and Carr plays with a soft, lithe tone, forceful when necessary, spilling notes out and juxtaposing them with spare, brilliantly placed ones.

In the liner notes Alyn Shipton states that the group only heard Bitches Brew in 1970 “… by which time Nucleus had already established its own sound, and its own approach to jazz rock.” In A Silent Way appeared in 1969 – Carr momentarily quotes from it in the prologue to Song for the Bearded Lady - and there had already been Miles In The Sky and ESP’s Eighty One: the energetic inventiveness and sheer pleasure of this group makes Shipton’s argument redundant.

Nucleus was almost a different group by the time of the second session (only Ian Carr and drummer John Marshall remained). If the cycle of fashion really is the 25 years of popular wisdom, there are still a few years until the 80s can become likeable again. Once revisited, does each era enter an ongoing public domain of acceptability? Whatever the truth, the repulsion felt at that decade can tar even the most innocent (I don’t see a Rolex on Ian Carr’s wrist). Whether it’s the long shadow of free market greed or a reformed group’s diminishing returns or who knows what else, there isn’t the same vitality, playfulness or endearing innocence to this later version of Nucleus. The 1982 session is enjoyable, but not a patch on the one from 1971 which is without doubt worth the price of admission alone.
Colin Buttimer
December 2003
Published by the BBC