Harry Beckett – Still Happy (2016)

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Coming to the U.K. in 1954 from Barbados, the late Harry Beckett was a trumpet and flugelhorn player who played with John Surman, Graham Collier, Stan Tracey, Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt, Jah Wobble and many other visionaries of jazz. He earned himself a world-wide reputation and in 1961 played with Charles Mingus in the film All Night Long. He recorded for RCA, Philips and other labels.

In 1974, Beckett recorded a session for BBC 2’s Jazz Club. The recording was never released but has now been completely remastered from the original tapes. Here, Beckett collaborates with sax players Alan Wakeman and Don Weller – they played in the films Absolute Beginners and Stormy Monday – along with Paul Hart on bass, John Webb on drums and Robin Jones on percussion.

There are just three tracks on Still Happy, a 30-minute-long vinyl recording, but they capture the essence of Harry Beckett’s fluent jazz trumpet, combining his Caribbean-influenced funk and groove with great jazz sounds. The opening track “Bracelet of Sound” is a glorious celebration of sound, beginning with guitar and percussion, delicate yet engaging. Over 14 minutes long, this journey of sound captures 1970s jazz essences perfectly with the backing electronic piano from Brian Miller. There is also a driving, funky bass line over which Beckett’s trumpet soars and merges in turn.

The title track “Still Happy” has never been released before and captures Beckett’s penchant for Caribbean mixed in with jazz and funk tunes beautifully as the musicians trade riffs and responses. Relentless in its driving energy, the track has a bit of everything, with a gorgeous sax interlude, wonderful, crazy-beat drumming from Webb and soulful bass underpinning the lot. Add to the mix the trumpet of Beckett, with its first-class pitch and gorgeous curves to the phrasing and you have an almost perfect jazz track which reflects the era beautifully.

The shorter but no less wonderful “No Time For Hello” rounds off Still Happy well. Again, great use of sax, drums and trumpet. It captures the bubbling vivacity of Harry Beckett, who displayed such joy in his playing. This track works over a driving bass riff from Hart, which is maintained virtually right the way through, finally emerging from the layers created by the instruments to finish “No Time For Hello” on its own.

“Bracelet of Sound” and “No Time for Hello” are re-workings of tracks which first appeared on Beckett’s album Joy Unlimited (Cadillac Records 1975) and all are composed by Beckett, who died on July 22, 2010 after suffering a stroke. Still Happy captures the jazz of the era and also the influence of Harry Beckett’s Caribbean roots – and his pure joy of playing.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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