Westbrook and Wakeman line up with the Uncommon Orchestra for A Bigger Show

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Although Mike and Kate Westbrook are based in the West Country, it's fortunate that they venture eastwards from time to time, recently with Paintbox Jane (a celebration of Raoul Dufy) and The Uncommon Orchestra – A Bigger Show (pictured above), which is being performed at the Albany, Deptford on Friday 29 September, and at the Apex, Bury St. Edmunds the following night.

A member of their entourage is the saxophonist Alan Wakeman, who has been associated with the Westbrooks for some time. He first met Mike when he was at Drayton Manor School where Mike taught art – they were later to work together when Alan joined the Westbrook Orchestra which recorded Citadel/Room 315 in 1975 and Love/Dream & Variations in 1976. In the meantime Alan had lessons from Charles Chapman (who had tutored Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Vic Ash, John Barnes and Barbara Thompson) and cut his teeth working with the London Youth Jazz Orchestra, before forming a quartet with drummer Paul Lytton. He went on to play with bassist Harry Miller and joined the Graham Collier band which recorded Songs For My Father (1970) and Mosaics (1971).The 1970s and 80s also saw him working and recording with John Dankworth, Soft Machine, Don Rendell, Michael Garrick, Harry Beckett, Stan Tracey and Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra, amongst others. His own band, Triton (with Paul Bridge & Nigel Morris), recorded Wilderness of Glass in 1978 – reissued on CD and well worth a listen.

His work with Mike Westbrook continued with the release of Bright as Fire (1980), the collaboration with Adrian Mitchell of William Blake's words. He subsequently worked as a session man whilst regularly playing with various Westbrook ensembles. In recent years he has been a member of Midlands-based group Interplay, through which he has formed a strong partnership with trombonist Richard Baker, whose quintet he plays with. He also has time to work in The Rocking Hams, an outfit dedicated to the work and spirit of Lord Rockingham's Xl (if you're not of a certain age, look them up!). But it his relationship with the Westbrooks' work that shows the extent of his vision and interest – their absence of categorisation and broad-based approach are things he clearly feels at one with.

At the moment he is still recovering from the setback of hospitalisation and surgery last year but there are clear signs that his old edge is returning. Great news for us, for here is a musician of the highest calibre who can just as easily evoke the mellow tones of Ben Webster or the modernism of Harold Land or Wayne Shorter, as summon up the demons in an Aylerish/Shepp fashion. A man for all seasons. Oh, and Happy 70th Birthday on the 13th, Alan.

– Matthew Wright

– Photo by Matthew North

For more info visit www.thealbany.org.uk and www.theapex.co.uk