Mama Chicago (2CD)
music - Mike Westbrook
lyrics - Kate Westbrook
Michael Kustow, Mike Westbrook & Adrian Mitchell
"The Mike Westbrook Brass Band's award winning 1978 masterwork, now on CD for the first time."
2. Mama Chicago (1)
3. Mama's Boogie
4. Mama Chicago (2)
5. Senator's Song
6. Mama Chicago (3)
8. Shipwrecked Sailor
2. Song of the Rain
3. Prisoner's Hymn
4. Pre-conceived Ideas
5. Heart in Heart, Hand in Hand
6. Goin to Chicago
7. Apple Pie
8. Mama Chicago (4)
9. Mama Chicago (5)
10. Windy City
11. Titanic Song
Mama Chicago includes material originally commissioned 1n 1976 by the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, for a musical about Al Capone, 'Mama Chicago", an English version by Michael Kustow of the original by Roger Planchon. The musical was never staged, but Mike and Kate Westbrook later adapted the piece for The Brass Band. Mama Chicago, a Jazz Cabaret , featuring the voices of Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton, was premiered at the Open Space Theatre, London in 1978. It went on to win the 1978 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Award. There were many subsequent performances in London, followed by extensive touring in Britain and Europe, as well as Australia. There were broadcasts on radio and television in several countries and the double album, produced by Andy Duncan and Tony Visconti was recorded in Hamburg, for Teldec, in 1979.
It takes some grit to get past the concept - jazz cabaret by a brass band, red carnations on a spare white sleeve / Evita in cloth caps?
Allay your fears. This brass band is a lithe septet and the four sides (vinyl) of 'Mama Chicago' slip down like buttermilk. Originally conceived as a score for a now-abandoned version of Roger Planchon's bizarre theatrical life of Al Capone, this is Mike Westbrook's best record since the mighty 'Citadel /Room 315'.
All the obvious temptations are sidestepped without trouble. There are no attempts at sprawling grandiose orchestration, nor is there any straining to meet a storyline. Whatever the original design, sketches emerge of a forlorn dinosaur of a city and the scenario hangs together without any narrative lynchpin. The lyrics (mainly Michael Kustow and Kate Westbrook) are a sly adjunct to the main action, embellishing rather than detracting from the music.
Westbrook ransacks the tradition with gleeful abandon. Ballroom sleaze on 'Pre-Conceived Ideas' rubs shoulders with the Sunday school solemnity of 'Prisoners Hymn' and the jump band drive of 'Goin To Chicago'. Much of it is strongly Ellingtonian in character - in fact the master's own 'A Drum Is A Woman' comes to mind - and Westbrook has developed the ducal characteristic of providing settings in which individual stylists can thrive.
The playing swings and sighs throughout, tough modernism allied to an unfashionably direct uncluttered approach. Everyone excels, but Mick Page's bull-necked tenor on 'Pre-Conceived Ideas', Malcolm Griffiths' peppery trombone and Chris Hunter's fleet alto deserve special merit badges. And Westbrook himself thoughtfully redefines his view of composers' piano.
The vocalists are superb. Phil Minton is abrasive or keening as the mood demands while Kate Westbrook uncoils an astonishing emotional range that stretches from the city slicker cynicism of 'Senator's Song' to the wispy whispered tenderness of 'Shipwrecked Sailor'.
'Mama Chicago' revives a medium previously stale and lifeless. I suppose the obvious comparison is with Carla Bley's 'Escalator Over The Hill', but the energy and sureness here here blow away that flabby, muddled work. Even Weill's inescapable ghost does no more than hover in the background. If you think that cabaret is all Man Tran (sorry guys) and scampi on ice then book a table here.
Richard Cook - NME (December 1979)
I hadn't expected Mike Westbrook's 'jazz cabaret', Mama Chicago, to be as enjoyable on record as it is in person, but I was wrong. In fact the music comes over better without the rival attraction of the stage presentation.
The whole work is a wonderfully bizarre mixture of styles, ranging from free jazz to Kurt Weill, by way of Souza and Thelonious Monk. The great thing about it is that constantly surprising shift of idiom and mood which has long been a Westbrook trademark. If you are looking for an nice comfortable wallow this is not the record for you. It sets out to disturb your tranquility and it does.
Everyone plays well in his own way, from Phil Minton's gurgling trumpet calls to Malcolm Griffith's polished and tricky trombone, but the player who dominates the album is altoist Chris Hunter (now, sadly, an ex-member of the band). I've said it before, and I'll go on saying it: Chris is one of the most promising jazz musicians Britain has turned out in years. Once you've heard Mama Chicago you'll be convinced too.
Experience teaches us all to beware of double albums with lyrics printed inside the sleeve; so much solemn tedium has come in bumper packages. This is the exception, a fully realised long work without chunks of self indulgence or slackness. I think it's Mike Westbrook's best yet.
Dave Gelly - Jazz Journal International (March 1980)
Mike Westbrook: Piano/Euphonium/Tuba
Phil Minton: Trumpet/Vocals
Kate Westbrook: Tenor Horn/Piccolo/Vocals
Mick Page: Tenor Sax/Baritone Sax/Soprano Sax
Chris Hunter: Alto Sax/Soprano Sax/Flute
Malcolm Griffiths: Trombone/Bass Trombone
Dave Barry: Drums/Percussion
Mike Westbrook Recordings
Reviews of 1979 release
in memory of
A Bigger Show
Catania - Live in Sicily 1992
Glad Day - Live
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