HAROLD McNAIR: ‘The Fence’ (Label: Hux Records)

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HAROLD McNAIR: 'The Fence'

An early death – he succumbed to lung cancer aged just 39 in 1971 – undoubtedly robbed this talented Jamaican-born alto saxophone player and flautist of wider recognition. Though revered by the jazz cognoscenti – and some rock fans, who might recall his role as co-founder of Ginger Baker’s Air Force – McNair is now a largely forgotten figure (though a few well-read pop music anoraks will remember McNair’s role as a sideman on several records by psychedelic folk singer, Donovan, in the late-’60s). McNair arrived in the UK in 1961 after a stint with Quincy Jones in the States and immediately made an impact with British jazz fans. A year prior to his demise, B&C Records issued this excellent album, where McNair leads an octet including pianist Keith Tippett and the durable Danny Thompson on bass. Highlights include the mesmeric title track – which has a laidback Grant Green-esque type groove – the rock-tinged epic modal jazz of ‘Early In The Morning’ and a bucolic, flute-led rendition of the antique folk song, ‘Scarborough Fair.’ McNair also throws in a jazzed-up 12-minute version of the Fab Four’s ‘Here, There & Everywhere’ as a closer. The original, very collectable, vinyl version of this album is extremely hard to find – so now, thanks to Hux Records, jazz buffs can snap up this lost classic for a small fraction of the exorbitant ebay price.
(CW) 4/5