It’s a shame that some truly great historic bands came on the scene and then subsequently left it way too soon. Both the First and Second Great Quintets of Miles Davis, the classic John Coltrane Quartet, the Kenny Clarke - Francy Boland Big Band, and pianist Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath are easily at the top of the list. Incorporating musicians from both Britain and South Africa, McGregor’s freewheeling and loosely-grooved ensemble found unique ways to incorporate both traditional jazz styles and avant-garde tendencies into their music. That they were both ground breaking and revolutionary in a way so little music is was beyond doubt. That they are required listening is mandatory.
Eclipse At Dawn was recorded live on November 4, 1971 at the Berlin Philharmonic. In total, the 11 musicians smash all preconceived notions of what is possible to create in small big band music while at the same time fashioning a music that is both exciting and seriously momentous. Opening with Dudu Paukwana’s "Nick Tete" the ensemble takes the initial riff melody and adds to it both sections of strongly Dixieland influenced funk and free jazz summersaults. The concept of ensemble and music first is never more strongly apparent; who plays what is not as important as the way the lines and instrumental timbres mix to create an otherworldly glorious sound.
Chris McGregor’s "Restless" is a microcosm of the group’s concept. Beginning with a post-bop melody buried within a fluctuating rhythm section concept, the piece eventually gives way to a hot Marc Charig trumpet solo. It’s a true jaw-dropper, and how he magnificently evolves to free jazz wanderings from his opening tightly chordal/modal-laced solo is beyond description. Eventually the ensemble jumps in, one by one, to join and dance with Charig in an extended free jazz love fest that never gets boring. Everyone participates but yet has ears open to what surrounds them so that their phrases find points of commonality amid the riotously clanging sounds.
"Do It" is built out of the wonderful ruin that "Restless" creates and brings structure with another riff-inspired melody. The piece builds itself slowly, but perfectly, to its own well-shaped crescendo. The rest of the disc is just as inspired and perfectly organized and shaped as these three opening numbers. If you’re not familiar with this band you should be, and this disc is a perfect place to start. Leave your inhibitions on the sideline and jump in, the music is hot.