Major Surgery

Major Surgery were an English instrumental quartet that was active during the late 1970s.

Members: Jimmy Roche (guitar), Bruce Collcutt (bass), Don Weller (tenor sax), Tony Marsh (drums)

Roche and Weller had both played with East of Eden amidst assorted other credits. The quartet issued The First Cut on their self-financed Next! imprint in 1977. A closer look at the cover reveals more detail than initially meets the eye — apropos to the music, the intricacy of which belies the bare-bones instrumentation on hand.

Sax spins upwards and down at the start of “Dog and Bull Fight,” where Marsh rolls back and forth across his set as the others play loose for the first couple minutes. Around 2:20, Roche spins out a winding set of chords that form the backbone to the alternately clipped/fluid lines of Weller, who accentuates the cymbal-sprinkled, staccato cadence. The guitar gradually competes for more frontal space, winding and twisting licks amidst the tom-bombarded, increasingly dissonant woodwind.

A three-note, 2/4 ostinato bassline in Gmin opens “Hoe Down Up” amidst a syncopated, closed hi-hat stream. Gradually, sax spins in and out of the rhythmic vortex at super-high velocity. Midway, the structure is broken by an eager Roche, who lays out a thick stream of vaguely distorted mid-range leads. As the original theme reasserts, the ostinato is traded between the bass and guitar as Weller further explores the monochordal potential.

On “Foul Group Practices” an unlikely rollicking pattern is built around Cmin, with Weller exploring the tonal highs and lows of the key as Marsh tom-rolls each restart of the theme. Roche wiggles to the fore during the third minute with fluid, mid-tone runs that ultimately scale upward. The saxist lays out an improvised solo before recapitulating the main theme.

Electric picking of fourth’s and fifth’s in D is used to conjure the setting for “Shrimp Boats.” A choppy B♭–B progression in 3/4 fuels a string of lightning scales that finally give way to the ensemblic density of the track’s final three minutes. Through most of “Jubileevit,” the soloists weave scales around a tom-battered bassline in G.

After Major Surgery split, Marsh drummed for Harry Beckett and Mike Westbrook, among others, while Weller lent his talents to everyone from Cat Stevens and Alan Price to Michael Garrick and Gil Evans. The First Cut was reissued in 2013.

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