John Aram • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

Coup Perdu CPLP002
180-gram double-record set
2009/2014

Music

Sound

by Roy Gregory | February 3, 2015

hings ain’t always what they seem and this double album is a serious case in point. Take it at face value and assumptions will lead you astray. Coup Perdu is the "original recordings" arm of Glenn Armstrong’s Coup d’Archet reissue label deluxe, source of rare and wonderful material from the golden era of classical recording -- when artists were legendary and records were mono. The first Coup Perdu release, the fabulous Sine Qua Non, earned my Recording of the Year award for 2014, combining unusual, inventive and musically captivating material with fabulously executed artwork of unimpeachable quality. The recording was intimate, evocative and suited both the songs and performances perfectly, carefully mixing live takes with subtle overdubs, one of those rare records that extends your musical interest without your even noticing it's happening.

With Sine Qua Non in regular rotation, the idea of getting more of the same made me impatient for Coup Perdu’s next outing. But when it arrived, in the shape of Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, I found myself both pleased and surprised: pleased because the artwork has taken another step up in quality and the music is, if anything, even better; surprised because this isn’t, despite the title, a soundtrack album, nor is it a Glenn Armstrong recording.

Let’s start at the beginning. Saturday Night & Sunday Morning is a title that will pass many a reader by, unless that is you hold an interest in early British social realism. The 1960 movie is based on the Alan Sillitoe novel published two years previously and was instrumental in establishing the social realist school of "kitchen sink dramas." Revolving around the drudgery and restrictive social strictures of working-class life in Britain as it teetered on the brink of the 1960s, the movie's gritty visual style and unflinching confrontation of uncomfortable issues were perfectly complemented by John Dankworth’s contemporary jazz score. The film was to establish or cement the careers of many of those involved, including producer Tony Richardson, director Karel Reisz and stars Shirley Anne Field and Albert Finney (although it doesn’t explain quite how he graduated from machinist to running the CIA’s assassination program). It was number three in the UK box office for 1960, making a substantial profit and leaving an equally indelible mark on British culture, referenced by acts as diverse as The Kinks, Madness, The Smiths, The Arctic Monkeys and The Stranglers. Yet, somewhat bizarrely, there was never a soundtrack album and Dankworth never released the film’s music himself.

So what have we here? The music pressed on three sides of this album consists of a jazz suite in six movements written by John Aram (and played by his eponymous quintet) and inspired by the movie. The only direct link with the movie itself is the presence of the now sadly deceased Kenny Wheeler, a member of Dankworth’s original band, who guests on around half the tracks. The recording was captured in February 2009 at Dinemec, Geneva, funded by Aram himself. How did it end up with Coup Perdu? Armstrong saw the quintet perform the work live in Nottingham (where the movie was set) and was so enamored with what he heard that he sought out Aram after the show and asked if he had recorded the piece. His heart plummeted when the answer was "Yes" and then promptly soared when he learnt that it had never been released. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Dinemec recording is remarkable -- not in the audiophile sense but in terms of its authenticity. Listen to it and you’d swear that it was a tape from the '60s, not just the style of the playing but the sound too. Author Sillitoe was so impressed by what he heard that he gladly allowed the project to borrow snatches of dialogue from the movie, and these add to the period feel and texture. The soundstage is compact, the instrumental tonality rich and warm, yet the fluid solos and crisp rhythm work are clean and agile. In keeping with the period it evokes, the mix is more "enhanced mono" than conventional stereo, a creative decision that both allows the music to dovetail more naturally with the snippets of speech and delivers ultra-tight ensemble playing, presence and rhythmic integrity.

It’s almost as if someone opened a window straight onto the heyday of UK jazz, capturing the band crammed onto the stage of a tiny, smoke-filled venue -- a fact that’s all the more remarkable, given that only the Swiss resident Aram and the guesting Wheeler have any UK roots. How much of that is down to the presence of Wheeler’s characteristic flugelhorn I’ll let you decide, but he certainly hadn’t lost his expressive range or unique vocabulary. The rhythm section is masterful and beautifully captured, with crisp drums, plenty of attack on the piano and one of the best upright-bass sounds I’ve yet heard. Trombone, tenor sax and flugelhorn might constitute an unusual trio of brass instruments, but they mesh perfectly, introducing a limpid, almost plaintive tone that rests easily on the solid rhythmic foundation, suits the music perfectly and extends still further on side four.

With three sides taken up by the suite itself, it seemed wasteful to leave the fourth blank, so instead it’s filled with three additional tracks, two Wheeler compositions and a third from Aram, taped at the same sessions. Freer of form and more varied than the suite, they make a fascinating contrast, especially the spacious opening track, "Jigsaw." All three give the individual musicians more expressive scope and further emphasize the clean lines and sharp tonal and rhythmic contrasts in the playing.

Saturday Night & Sunday Morning is a joy. Anybody with an interest in or love of '60s jazz should get a hold of this right away. Anybody who loves Bill Evans’ crisp attack and sharp lines should definitely grab a copy, while anybody who thinks that jazz is a purely American art form (or who has suffered at the hands of Jazz at the Pawnshop) is going to be seriously surprised. Things ain’t always what they seem and I could waste a lot of time trying to define what this music isn’t. But what it definitely is is a great record that captures evocative music being played beautifully. Inner pages bound between the gatefold augment the gorgeous artwork on the sleeve. The heavily solarized and "irradiated" stills were originally created as back projections for live performance, and their presence here really is the atmospheric icing on the cake.

I thought Sine Qua Non was great; this is even better. Just be prepared to factor in the cost of a DVD or Blu-ray when buying the Coup Perdu record. One listen and you will want to see the film.

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