Group Sounds Four & Five: Black & White Raga review – the sound of buoyant optimism

<span>Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images

There’s nothing like a bit of chaos to get things going, and the creative convulsions that overtook British jazz in the mid-1960s produced some great bands. You may not have heard of Group Sounds Five because they were fairly short-lived and made no records, but they were among the best of them. They were not as revolutionary as the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, but neither did the members merely imitate Coltrane and Miles Davis, much as they admired them.

There was a bracing individualism about the band’s whole approach, and a buoyant optimism typical of those years. The band’s leading light was trumpeter Henry Lowther, still one of Britain’s finest. Others whose names may ring bells were bassist Jack Bruce (before Cream) and drummer Jon Hiseman (before Colosseum). No records, but they did make two BBC broadcasts, in 1965 and 1966, and that’s what we have here.

The seven tracks reveal the fluency, imagination and sheer togetherness of Group Sounds Five (and later Four) at their best. They worked hard and it shows in tricky pieces such as Celebrity Stomp, by pianist Ken McCarthy, and the remarkable, semi-abstract Snow, by Jack Bruce.