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Elastic Rock (1970), 6.5/10
We'll Talk About It Later (1970), 7/10
Solar Plexus (1971), 6.5/10
Belladonna (1972), 7/10
Labyrinth (1973), 6.5/10
Roots (1973), 6/10
Under The Sun (1974), 5/10
Snakehips Etcetera (1975), 5/10
Alleycat (1975), 5/10
In Flagranti Delicto (1977), 6/10
Out Of The Long Dark (1979), 5/10
Awakening (1980), 5/10
Live At The Theaterhaus (1985), 5/10
Ian Carr: Old Heartland (1988), 6/10
Zyklus: Virtual Realities (1992), 6/10
Ian Carr: Sounds And Sweet Airs (1993), 4/10
Recording dates:
Nucleus: Elastic Rock (January 1970)
Nucleus: We'll Talk About It Later (September 1970)
Nucleus: Solar Plexus (December 1970)
Ian Carr & Nucleus: Belladonna (July 1972)
Nucleus: Labyrinth (March 1973)
Nucleus: Roots (august (1973)
Nucleus: Under the Sun (March 1974)
Nucleus: In Flagrante Delicto (February 1977)
Nucleus: Out of the Long Dark (November 1978)

Britain's jazz scene embraced jazz-rock as soon as it was invented by Miles Davis. Formed in 1969 by trumpeter and flugelhornist Ian Carr (a veteran bebop musician), Nucleus were among the very first groups to fuse jazz and rock from the jazz perspective. Carr had been playing for almost ten years, first in the EmCee Five (featuring John McLaughlin on guitar) and then in the Rendell-Carr Group, which released five albums before 1969. The five-LP box-set The Complete Lansdowne Recordings 1965-1969 (Jazzman, 2018) is an anthology of the five albums recorded by that quintet (bassist Dave Green, drummer Trevor Tomkins and pianist Colin Purbrook): Shades Of Blue (october 1964), Dusk Fire (march 1966), Phase III (february 1967) with new pianist Michael Garrick, Change Is (april 1969) with bassist Jeff Clyne, reedist Stan Robinson and pianist Mike Pyne, and Live (march 1968). There was also a Live In London (november 1965).

Springboard (august 1966) featured bassist Jeff Clyne, drummer John Stevens and alto saxophonist Trevor Watts.

Except for the jittery, petulant, forceful eight-minute Torrid Zone, Nucleus' first album, Elastic Rock (Vertigo, 1970), was fragmented in brief vignettes that highlighted the group interplay without attempting any major statement. Ian Carr on trumpet and flugelhorn, Karl Jenkins on oboe and piano, Brian Smith on saxophone and flute, Chris Spedding on guitar and bouzouki, Jeff Clyne on bass and John Marshall on drums (both Marshall and Jenkins being ex-members of Graham Collier's ensemble), constituted one of the most skilled combos in the world, and each piece was mainly a display of their technical brilliance and of Carr's command of the melody (Elastic Rock, the sublime Earth Mother).

The music began to stretch out on We'll Talk About It Later (Vertigo, 1970), a release that was both more ambitious and more emotive. The slick, breezy seven-minute Song For The Bearded Lady refined Carr's jazz-rock aesthetics to an almost baroque degree and at an almost rocking pace (including lilting guitar riffs to accompany the horn fanfares that bookend the piece). The nine-minute Oasis is mere sheen, as the instruments gracefully danced around the leitmotiv propelled by Marshall's unstoppable rhythm. The constructs are never simple, but their "sound" is smooth and elegant. Sun Child is built around the contrast between the cynical, funky guitar and the sensual horn melodies. We'll Talk About It Later reinvents the blues by translating Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile into the language of Weather Report. The Lullaby For A Lonely Child is the album's romantic zenith, relishing the interplay between the trumpet solo and the dense drumming. Only the cold, brainy and obscure eight-minute Easter 1916, that is also the most frantic and convoluted piece of the album, breaks the magical equilibrium of the whole.

Nucleus' evolutionary process led to the "orchestral" sound of Solar Plexus (Vertigo, 1971), where the line-up of Carr, Jenkins, Smith, Spedding, Clyne and Marshall is augmented with the horn section of Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett and Tony Roberts, and with the synthesizer. Half of the album is taken by the 21-minute suite Torso / Snakehips' Dream, a new peak for their fluid style of improvisation, but no less charming and challenging are the 7-minute Bedrock Deadlock and the 9-minute Spirit Level.

Penumbra II (Jazz In Britain, 2022) documents a live performance of August 1971 of a three-movement suite by the historic line-up of Ian Carr (here on flugelhorn), Karl Jenkins (piano), the composer, which the album is credited to, Dave McRae (electric piano), Chris Spedding (guitar), John Marshall (drums) and Roy Babbington (bass) with guests such as Ray Warleigh (alto sax), Frank Ricotti (percussion), Brian Smith (soprano sax) and Alan Skidmore (tenor sax).

As the original members began playing with the more popular Soft Machine, Nucleus became the name of whatever line-up Ian Carr was playing with. On Belladonna (Vertigo, 1972) the leader and Smith were joined by Allan Holdsworth (guitar), Dave MacRae (keyboards), Gordon Beck (piano), Roy Babbington (bass), Clive Thacker (drums), Trevor Tomkins (percussions). The six tracks (Belladonna, Summer Rain, Remadione, May Day, Suspension, Hector's House) continue the leader's elegant, orchestral, baroque trip, and increase his exploration of timbres and tempos.

Nucleus lost Holdsworth but gained Tony Levin, a synthesizer and a plethora of guests (Kenny Wheeler, Trevor Tomkins, violinist Norma Winstone, clarinetist Tony Coe) on Labyrinth (Vertigo, 1973), whose highlights are the 11-minute Origins and the 18-minute Exultation / Naxos. The main innovations were in the rhythmic elements, that acquired a solid geometry of their own and constrained the melodic elements. Carr shone as the impeccable conductor, composer and arranger of the ensemble. Nucleus music was the "sound" that Carr manufactured out of his collaborators.

The overall talent of the group was declining, though, as shown by Roots (Vertigo, 1973), the first album to include a vocalist. The rhythm was beginning to sound like funk music and the ensemble was beginning to lose its "choral" appeal due to an excessively smooth production (Roots, Images, Caliban, Whapatiti, Capricorn, Odokamona, Southern Roots And Celebration)

Under The Sun (Vertigo, 1974) presented mostly a completely renovated line-up, with, again, a touch of electronics. Despite the 10-minute Rites of Man, the album is mostly uneventful. So were Snakehips Etcetera (Vertigo, 1975), and Alleycat (Vertigo, 1975). The four lengthy pieces of In Flagranti Delicto (Capitol, 1977) partially restored Carr's prestige, particularly in the way he fused traditional jazz and electronic sounds (Gestalt, Mysteries, Heyday, In Flagranti Delicto). Jazz arranger Neil Ardley helped craft the electronic sound of the new Nucleus on Out Of The Long Dark (Capitol, 1979), but the result was a more fragmented and less compelling work, as was the humbler Awakening (Mood, 1980).

Live At The Theaterhaus (Mood, 1985) contains all previously unreleased compositions. Despite the return of John Marshall, this is hardly worth of the original Nucleus.

Carr eventually found himself toying with classical composition. The result was the four-part Northumbrian Sketches, for jazz ensemble and string orchestra, that appears on Old Heartland (EMI, 1988).

Carr also contributed to Zyklus, a quartet with Neil Ardley and John Walters on electronics and Warren Greveson on drum-machines that released Virtual Realities (AMP, 1992).

Ian Carr's album of trumpet and organ duets Sounds And Sweet Airs (Celestial Harmonies, 1993) tried to sell his sophisticated sound to the meditative audience of new-age music.

The 13-disc boxset Live At The BBC (Repertoire, 2021) collects live radio performances by Nucleus, recorded between march 1970 and november 1991.

Ian Carr also pursued a successful career as a music critic.

Ian Carr died in 2009. John Marshall died in 2023.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Claudio Vespignan)

La scena jazz inglese abbracciò il jazz-rock dal momento in cui fu inventato da Miles Davis. Formati nel 1969 dal trombettista

Ian Carr, i Nucleus furono fra i primissimi gruppi a fondere jazz e rock dalla prospettiva del primo.

A parte Torrid Zone, di 8 minuti, il primo disco dei Nucleus, Elastic rock (Vertigo 1970) era frammentato in brevi schizzi che

evidenziavano la coesione all'interno del gruppo, senza concessioni commerciali. Ian Carr (tromba, corno), Karl Jenkins

(oboe, piano), Brian Smith (sax, flauto), Chris Spedding (chitarra, bouzouki), Jeff Clyne (basso) e John Marshall (batteria)

costituivano uno dei complessi più dotati tecnicamente al mondo, e ogni brano rappresenta uno sfoggio della loro bravura

(Elastic rock, Earth mother).

I pezzi iniziarono ad allungarsi su We'll talk about it later (Vertigo 1970), un lavoro più ambizioso e quasi barocco (Song for

the bearded lady, di 7 minuti) ma anche più emozionale (Sun child, Lullaby for a lonely child), anche se a tratti freddo,

cervellotico e oscuro (Oasis, di 9 minuti, Easter 1916, di 8 minuti).

Il processo evolutivo lo portò al sound orchestrale di Solar plexus (Vertigo 1971), dove la formazione di Carr, Jenkins, Smith,

Spedding, Clyne e Marshall si allarga con la sezione fiati di Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett e Tony Roberts, e con l'ingresso

del sintetizzatore. Metà del disco è occupata dalla suite di 21 minuti Torso / Snakehips' dream, una nuova vetta del loro

fluido stile improvvisativo, ma non meno ammalianti e affascinanti furono Bedrock deadlock, di 7 minuti, e Spirit level, di 9


Mentre i membri originali iniziavano ad entrare nei più famosi Soft Machine, Nucleus divenne il nome di qualsiasi formazione

suonasse con Ian Carr. Su Belladonna (Vertigo 1972) il leader e Smith furono affiancati da Allan Holdsworth (chitarra), Dave

Macrae (tastiere), Gordon Beck (piano), Roy Babbington (basso), Clive Thacker (batteria), Trevor Tomkins (percussioni). I

sei pezzi (Belladonna, Summer rain, Remadione, May Day, Suspension, Hector's house) proseguono il viaggio barocco,

elegante ed orchestrale del leader, ed aumentano il livello di ricerca di timbri e ritmi.

Perso Holdsworth e guadagnato Tony Levin, un sintetizzatore e una schiera di di ospiti (Kenny Wheeler, Trevor Tomkins, la

violinista Norma Winstone, il clarinettista Tony Coe) su Labyrinth (Vertigo 1973), in cui svettano Origins (11 minuti) e

Exultation / Naxos (18 minuti). Le principali innovazioni furono nelle ritmiche, che acquistarono una loro geometria

massiccia e forzarono gli elementi melodici. Carr brillava per la sua direzione impeccabile, in qualità di compositore e

arrangiatore del complesso. La musica dei Nucleus era il suono che Carr riusciva a far produrre ai suoi collaboratori.

Il talento assoluto del gruppo era tuttavia in declino, come dimostrato da Roots (Vertigo 1973), il primo album a comprendere

un cantante. Il ritmo iniziava ad avere parentele col funk e il complesso stava perdendo il suo interesse corale a causa di una

produzione troppo pulita (Roots, Images, Caliban, Whapatiti, Capricorn, Odokamona, Southern roots and celebration).

Under the sun (Vertigo 1974) presentava una formazione completamente rinnovata con, un'altra volta, un tocco di

elettronica. Nonostante i 10 minuti di Rites of man, l'album è per gran parte monotono. Così anche Snakehips etcetera

(Vertigo 1975) e Alleycat (Vertigo 1975). I quattro lunghi pezzi di In flagranti delicto (Capitol 1977) ristabilirono parzialmente

il prestigio di Carr, soprattutto per il modo in cui fondeva il jazz classico con l'elettronica (Gestalt, Mysteries, Heyday, In

flagranti delicto). Persino l'arrangiatore jazz Neil Ardley collaborò al suono elettronico dei nuovi Nucleus di Out of the long

dark (Capitol 1979), ma i risultati non furono irresistibili per l'eccessiva frammentazione, così come per l'ancor più modesto

Awakening (Mood 1980).

Live at the Theaterhaus (Mood 1985) contiene composizioni inedite. Nonostante il ritorno di John Marshall, si tratta di un

lavoro ben poco dignitoso degli originali Nucleus.

Era inevitabile che Carr arrivasse a trovarsi a giocare con la musica classica. Il risultato fu Northumbrian Sketches, per

ensemble jazz e sezione d'archi, una suite in 4 parti che appare su Old Heartland (Emi 1988).

Carr contribuì anche con Zyklus, un quartetto con Neil Ardley e John Walters all'elettronica e Warren Greveson alla batteria

elettronica, che fece uscire Virtual realities (Amp, 1992).

Il suo disco di duetti tromba-organo Sounds and sweet airs (Celestial Harmonies 1993) cercava di vendere il suo sound

sofisticato al pubblico meditativo della new age.

Ian Carr condusse anche un'ottima carriera di critico musicale.

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