Jon Mark - vocals, guitar, percussion; Johnny Almond - vocals, alto and tenor saxophone, flute, congas; Geoff Condon - flugel horn, trumpet, flute, keyboards, backing vocals; Alun Davies - guitar; Wolfgang Melz - bass, vocals; Dannie Richmond - drums, percussion; Bobby Torres - percussion
This remarkable Mark-Almond Band recording captures the group opening for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, shortly before they recorded the "half live/half studio" recording Mark-Almond '73. Capturing the group near the end of their initial golden era, this recording will be of great interest to fans of this highly innovative band. Containing a healthy quantity of material destined for that album, as well as a few selections from their previous albums, this set serves as a compelling retrospective of the band during their most inventive era.
For those unfamiliar with the group, Jon Mark and Johnny Almond were both alumni of John Mayall's innovative Turning Point group. When they teamed up to pursue their own music near the end of the 1960s, they continued pursuing the relatively uncharted territory between rock and jazz. The group's sound was initially characterized by an innovative blend of blues licks, jazz riffs and Latin beats with a rock sensibility. Composer and lead vocalist Jon Mark created impressionistic montages of sound, often sung in a softly whispered voice with an innate sense of warmth and intimacy. His partner, multi-instrumentalist Johnny Almond, was primarily a reedman, whose smoky, melancholy tone was an integral ingredient to the group's sound. He was equally adept at subtle, melodic lines as he was to free-jazz blowouts and this diversity in the group's sound attracted the attention of Charles Mingus's extraordinary drummer, Dannie Richmond, who took a leave of absence to tour and record with the group. Over the next few years, Mark-Almond consistently explored new ground. The music combined pensive, spatially oriented ballads and early jazz/latin/rock fusion, while retaining a sense of identity due to the strong musical vision of its leaders. The Mark-Almond Band created a sound that was a masterful and seamless blend of these two bandleader's diverse styles.
The recording begins with "What Am I Living For" in progress, one of the standout tracks and the single released from their 1972 album, Rising. This thought-provoking ballad treats destitution in a most intriguing way and became a moderate hit on FM radio at the time. They continue with "Just Another Road Song," the track destined to kick off the next album 'Mark Almond '73, featuring a nice flugelhorn solo from Condon. Then it's on to some serious exploration with a monumental version of the most beloved song from the band's debut album, The City. Clocking in at well over 20 minutes, it begins with a nice, relaxed groove and continues to build in intensity. Following the first verse, Condon takes another nice solo, on trumpet this time, adding a new element to this great Latin flavored number. Following the second verse, around the five-minute mark, Johnny Almond takes over with an extended sax solo that is constantly inventive. This lasts for nearly eight solid minutes, before the band kicks back in shortly before the 15-minute mark. When they do, Almond blasts out another wild freeform solo before they engage in the third verse, which concludes with Geoff Condon taking over for a flute solo to bring the song to a close. It's an incredible performance that blends a diverse range of elements with a smoldering intensity.
The track "Get Yourself Together" that follows is also a lengthy exploration. Expanded to nearly three times the length of the version that would soon appear on the 73 album, this adds some early funk elements into the mix and showcases the remarkable rhythm section of Melz, Richmond and Torres. Shortly before the 11-minute mark, the band drops out, leaving the rhythm section plenty of space to solo, which they do with great flair. Someone in the group screams "Away with the Klu Klux Clan, God damn!" and then the entire band kicks back into the song for a smokin' conclusion to the set.
The audience clamors for more and they return for a brief all-instrumental rendition of "Riding Free" for the encore. Without the lyrical element and with the horn section of Almond and Condon both blazing away, this is reminiscent of early Blood, Sweat & Tears but with a decidedly English jazzy bent.
Although radically different than groups so often referred to as "progressive rock," this era of Mark-Almond was indeed progressive in every sense of the word. Mark-Almond was a vastly overlooked band that featured brilliant musicians. They avoided the cliches of soaring keyboards and twenty minute tales of the supernatural. Their songs always focused on reality and were devoted to life on deserted highways, love lost and the loneliness of smoky barrooms. They had an innate sense of drama without resorting to histrionics and deserve recognition for being one of the most innovative and original bands of the era.