John Larkin was a man who endured many struggles in his life. His art, his alcoholism, his misfortune all resulted in years of him being confined to obscurity. I have two albums by John Larkin, both of which are poignantly dedicated to the deceased (one of which being John himself). It’s a twisted love story really, his partner pushing him forward, pulling him from the depths and into the limelight. The story of John Larkin is an excellent and heart wrenching tale, which I fully urge you to look up if you are at all interested in his music.
The long forgotten John Larkin LP was released in 1986 and recorded between 1984 and 1985, when John was fully consumed with his drinking problems and a lack of direction was quickly taking its toll. Jazz is an interesting genre in this regard – one in which the best results seem to appear at the single most difficult point in an artist’s life (see John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus…).
John’s quartet features John Larkin on piano and vocals, Joe Farrell on tenor sax, Clark Woodard on drums, and Bob Harrison on bass. The album is dedicated to “the living spirit of Joe Farrell”, who died of cancer shortly after completing his work on this record.
John Larkin “John Larkin LP”
The LP has a mere six tracks, but each of them excellent in their technicalities as well as their expression. The first track, entitled “The Misfits”, is a fast paced, energetic vocal number. It confidently jumps from standard lounge style, into free jazz. This is the John Larkin most people will be familiar with, and it makes you realise that no matter how much some modern producer bastardized his work, John never strayed much from his original visions. It takes a lot of integrity to support that kind of recognition over the course of 25 years.
“Last Night I Dreamed” is a classic piece of vocal jazz that John elevates into something quite notable with his piano crescendos, and stabs. It’s all adequately backed up with the rest of his Quartet, but John is very much centre stage here, his unusual vocal techniques deliver every single line quite uniquely. I’m sure this is about his wife, or at least, I’d like to believe it was. It’s not really a proclamation of love, but rather an acceptance of it, or perhaps a realisation.
Track three, “Love Cry” has one of the best piano intros I’ve ever heard on a record. It’s so perfectly executed that is hard to believe its real. I’m not sure if John mimics his piano work with his vocal choices or vice versa, but either way, the results are remarkable. Almost two minutes of intro, then you’re quickly thrown into a bustling, modern sounding piece of music. This is the quartet at their best, some lovely drum work here, fills and rolls effortlessly keep things moving on.
“Angles Flight” is the first track on the b-side, which both delights and confuses with nine full minutes of free jazz. High energy, technically orchestrated, and just something you don’t hear any more today. I’m not a big fan of free jazz, and it takes me a few listens to try to understand what going on. This type of things needs to be played at full volume, engulf the listener with a barrage of sound before it’s really effective, if you ask me. It’s an interesting product, but to my untrained ears, quite a difficult listen.
Juxtaposed to the madness of “Angles Flight”, is the wonderful “John Coltrane”, by far and away my favourite cut on the album. Here the rest of the quartet are missing, and John can fully realise his unique vocals to hair-raising effect. A solo voice, quietly sings before delving into vocal improvisation with wordless vocals, nonsense syllables, as his piano slowly builds an accompaniment. Stabbing and hammering, the thing builds into an imposing tower of sound before a massive, devastating collapse. As the dust settles John’s voice emerges triumphant and beautiful, alongside decaying, echoing chords and the hiss of the tape machine. You can hear the pain and love in the vocals. The honesty and injury of the brutalities of his life become crystal clear in his voice, as the piano almost collapsing under the weight of such expression. If anyone ever want to hear true art in music, real expression, this is what I would recommend they listen to.
The last track is the instrumental “Softly As In A Sunrise” which serves wonderfully to pull us out of the abyss they last track created. Fast, upbeat, and less improvised than “Angles Flight”, is a lovely farewell from the quartet, and the only track on the whole disc not written by John.
I love this album desperately, and I wish my words could do it the justice it truly deserves. It breaks my heart that after a quarter of a decade making music of this quality, John Larkin is best known for some bullshit Euro Dance remix. I would love to hear what happened in the twenty years between the LP and his death, but I fear I never will. There’s more recordings out there (the back of the album states “more of the music from these sessions will be released at a future date”), but whether or not they are deleted or worse, forgotten about, I’ll never know.
Part of the longing
of what was
Is as sureness of
what must and will return
Heaven left, and gave back
the room it picked
its original order
The birth of his manifest
through his children in harmony
Nothing more - Nothing less
than what we're living for
The work was ours
the results were not
One more chapter understood
to bring us one step closer
to where we've always been