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Recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in 1995 and released the same year, yet not making the UK album chart top 40, How Long Has This Been Going On is a directly jazz-flavoured collection of songs, some of which are old standards and some of Van Morrison's own re-worked/re-arranged compositions....produced by both Van and band member Georgie Fame. Van asked various other musicians to accompany him on this album, such as Pee Wee Ellis, Annie Ross and Leo Green, to name just a few.
Much of the music on this album is done in bebop style of jazz, or even borderline big band, despite it actually being played by a small band. Van's voice is very suited to many genres of music, jazz being one of them, and being an adept multi-instrumentalist himself, he plays better than passably good sax.
The whole mood of How Long Has This Been Going On, jazz-wise, is crisp, bright, clean, sharp and very optimistic, being the sort of music I like to hear out in the open, say at a jazz jam in a field somewhere on a hot summer's day when everyone is relaxed, happy and full of bonhomie. Most of the tracks are very uptempo, with just a couple of slow, sleazy, smoochy little numbers, but overall I prefer the faster material as it is high on energy, teeming with positivity and not just oozing, but exploding a warm, bright feel which is akin to a sunburst.
The instrumentals on this album are very good, containing some quite complex improvisations which although some have criticised in the past claiming the music to be jazz influenced rather than actual jazz, my own way of seeing it is that jazz covers a huge myriad of styles....the contents of this album merely being one of those styles. Just because it isn't of a progressive nature, it doesn't mean to say it isn't real jazz.
The pianist (Robin Aspland) has a very special groove going here, adept, his fingers flying across the keys, and he has a real feel for the music....as do all the other band members, but he truly does stand out for me.
Some of the tracks here are complete re-hashes by Van of his own previous work, and it does when you first listen to this album (if you are familiar with his whole musical output), sound a little odd to hear songs so drastically changed up - but, it nonetheless is very interesting, and the complete re-modelling hasn't deteriorated the original quality of The Man's own music too much. The only track on this album where Van has revamped his own material that I feel doesn't quite work, is the rendition of Moon Dance, as particularly from a jazz point of view, I unquestionably feel that the very best version - complete with sax, trumpets and all the trappings of clear cut jazz music - appears on Van's 1993 A Night In San Francisco live album. Here, on How Long Has This Been Going On, I don't feel that the level of improvisation in the middle of the track suits it too well, due to the song being very powerful - albeit gently so - in its own right, and to meddle with it in this way loses something from it rather than adds anything beneficial....however, it is still very good.
Even back in the 1960s, I always thought of Georgie Fame as more of a jazz than a rock or pop person, and he has in more recent years often worked with Van Morrison, but I never cease to be surprised at how limited his (Georgie's) instrumental ability appears to be after such a long time in the business. That isn't intended to be a criticism...more that he is still rather conservative when it comes to letting it all hang out and experimenting with riffs, improvisations etc. However, Georgie has for some years been a positive addition to Van's different bands, as he is on this album.
As an album, How Long Has This Been Going On has a big groove ongoing throughout all the tracks, even the couple of quieter ones and it never fails to lift me and cheer me up, no matter how far down in the pits I can be at any given time. The music doesn't rock as such, because it isn't rock music....it blasts, yet in the most tasteful and professional of ways. All of the band members on this album session are completely in sync and harmony with one another, experiencing that syndrome whereby they communicate with music, it taking over where words leave off.
Overall, my favourite track is probably the last, Heathrow Shuffle. It is a cheeky little piece of music, very clear cut, with a forward-motion rhythm, an uptempo, rolling tune and an essence - borderline rock & roll/jazz fusion in style - which makes me want to get up and boogie around the room. Much of the track is instrumental, with just a little touch of vocals during the middle eight, and is a perfect way to close off this very up-beat, enjoyable collection of music - one which came as a total surprise, appearing in the middle of a stream of other albums which saw Van Morrison in deeper, more reflective, sometimes depressive (yet still good) mode.
How Long Has This Been Going On is an album which I feel some more conservative Van Morrison fans may dislike, because although it isn't out of character for The Man to travel down the jazz route, this is pure jazz through and through, with nothing else to break it up or deviate. I consider it almost probable that the album would appeal to jazz fans, even if they don't especially like most or all of Van Morrison's other work. However, as I said somewhere above, this album is performed in one particular style of jazz....a style which doesn't wander too far off the beaten track into an avant-garde wilderness, so don't expect anything akin to the work of bands such as Weather Report.
At the time of writing, How Long Has This Been Going On can be purchased on CD from Amazon, as follows:-
New: from £12.72 to £35.99
Used: from £4.75 to £78.00
Collectible: Only one copy currently available @ £24.99 (appears to be used)
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
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~~ May also be published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
I Will Be There
The New Symphony Sid
Early In The Morning
Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Your Mind Is On Vacation
All Saint's Day
Blues In The Night
Don't Worry About A Thing
Van Morrison (vocals, alto sax)
Annie Ross (vocals)
Pee Wee Ellis (alto sax)
Alan Skidmore (alto sax)
George Fame (vocals, Hammond organ)
Guy Barker (trumpet)
Leo Green (tenor sax)
Ralph Salmins (drums)
Robin Aspland (piano)
Alec Dankworth (bass)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I Will Be There
2 New Symphony Sid
3 Early In The Morning
4 Who Can I Turn To
5 Sack O' Woe
8 How Long Has This Been Going On
9 Your Mind Is On Vacation
10 All Saint's Say
11 Blues In The Night
12 Don't Worry About A Thing
13 That's Life
14 Heathrow Shuffle