Barbara Thompson – Songs From The Center Of The Earth (1991)

FrontCover1Multi-instrumentalist, Barbara Thompson, studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music. In the mid 70s, she worked as a session saxophonist on numerous jazz and rock albums. During that time, she also completed three works for jazz and classical players commissioned by the BBC. In 1977, Thompson formed the jazz fusion group, Paraphernalia, which recorded several albums and gained a loyal following throughout Europe. Thompson also played with a nineteen-piece big band called Moving Parts, comprised of some of the finest young players in the United Kingdom. Other projects include work with the Jon Hiseman Quartet and the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble, a ten-piece group featuring Kenny Wheeler, Wolfgang Dauner and Charlie Mariano.

BarbaraThompson (2)

Songs from the Center of the Earth is a solo recording by veteran British jazz saxophonist, composer and band leader, Barbara Thompson. On Songs from the Center of the Earth, the rich yet plaintive sounds of Thompson’s saxophones seem to ring through the mists of time. Her compelling solo improvisations on ancient melodies were recorded over two hot summer nights in August 1990 at the historic Abbey du Thoronet in Var, Provence, France. I have long thought that folk songs lie dormant at the center of us until recognition is triggered by an experience,’ she says. ‘As the Abbey dates back to medieval times, I thought it fitting to play traditional church and folk pieces from all over the world, some of which are older than the Abbey itself.’ The warm, resonant setting enhances Thompson’s updated interpretations of Irish airs, twelth century Crusade chants, Syrian love ballads, ancient Spanish cradle songs and folk melodies from Greece, Germany, Jamaica, Brazil and Uruguay. Performing on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, Thompson draws on her extensive jazz background to embellish this music with expressive pitch bends and glissandos that bring these age-old tunes firmly into the twentieth century. Sometimes gently reminiscent, sometimes powerful in their evocation of timeless emotions, Thompson’s masterful improvisations provide an eloquent commentary on the past.’

This is a definitve masterpiece by Barbara Thompson ! ! !


Barbara Thompson (saxophone)


01. Fanaid Grove 3.39
02. Nobilis Humilis 4.44
03. Chanterai Por Mon Coraige (I would be singing for Consolation) 4.12
04. Al Ya Zane (Oh Thou Zane) 5.07
05. Cancion De Cuna 3.30
06. Toriad Y Dydd (Day-Break) 4.32
07. Suspira Coracao Triste (My Heart is Heavy with Sadness) 2.37
08. Whereto Should I Express 3.03
09. Estilo 3.50
10. O My Love How Long 3.14
11. Winder Wie Ist No Dien Kraft (Winter Now Your End is Near) 4.26
12. I Can’t Stay in Egypt Lan’ 2.57
13. De Ribber Ben Come Dung 4.08
14. Down By the Sally Gardens 3.21




Comments to the music:

Track 1: This is a traditional Irish ballad describing the sad tale of a young girl and her baby, rejected by her lover and left out on the cold mountainside to die.
Track 2: 12th Century Hymn to St. Magnus, Earl of Orkney.
Track 3: 12th Century song of the Crusades sung by the lonely and anxious women left behind at their spinning and weaving, while the men fought in the land of the Saracens.
Track 4: Syrian Love Song. The literal meaning of “Zane-il-Abedeen” is “fairest of all the worshippers”.
Track 5: Ancient Spanish cradlesong.
Track 6: Traditional Welsh song.
Track 7: A Brazilian modhina, an urban love song of deep sentiment and passionate yearning.
Track 8: King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547).
Track 9: This song commemorates Jose Artiga, the national hero of Uruguay, and has two moods, the first slow and pensive, and the second faster and more spirited.
Track 10: Greek folk song.
Track 11: German troubadour song attributed to Neidhart von Ruental ca. 1190-1240.
Track 12: Bahamian spiritual of African origin, combining elements of protest and yearning for freedom.
Track 13: Jamaican digging song.
Track 14: Based on the Irish air, The Maid of Mourne Shor, with lyrics by W. B. Yeats.


Barbara Thompson´s Paraphernalia – Nightwatch (Pure Fantasy) (1984 + 1996)

FrontCover1 Seeing the heart-rending documentary on BBC4 about Barbara’s Parkinsons disease and how it (almost!) stopped her playing entirely and her subsequent ever-so gallant effort to play live again, certainly reminded me what a superb musician she was – and still is.

Indeed, I still have many vinyl albums of her and her ‘Paraphanalia’, which, admittedly do not get played any more. Setting about purchasing something much more modern and in the digital age and in some way to help pay for her really costly but potentially life-changing therapy that I learned about in the programme, ‘Nightwatch’ seemed the obvious and appropriate choice.

Barbara was always one to compose and bend technology to her way of thinking, to produce a modern sort of chunky, sometimes funky jazz, yet light and delicate as a dew-laden morning. Alongside Barbara’s own saxes and flutes, she has weaving and fusing in an amazing sounding fretless bass, imaginative keyboards, electric violin and the incredible dexterity of long-standing Paraphanalia drummer Jon Hiseman. The tracks here are all tightly played, dazzling in their musical technique and skill and my overall impression is that the album is too short, suggesting that I’m enjoying it a lot and want more! (By Tim Kidner)


Pure Fantasy front+back cover (1984)

This is a wonderful album, recorded in January 1984 (although it says 1983 at one point on the cover sleeve) and is as vibrant today thirty years on as the day that it was recorded. There are two excellent reviews already on this site and my thunder has been stolen somewhat. This is an early Paraphernalia album, and unlike many that follow it is more “ethnic” less outright rock than some later albums. Many of the tunes have a Sri Lankan background, but at its heart this is a typical Paraphernalia jazz/ rock fusion album.

The line up is typical of Paraphernalia. Apart from Barbara Thompson and her husband Jon Hiseman (drums), other musicians have come and gone (and returned!). Barbara is a top saxophonist and plays tenor and soprano with great fluency. She also plays a mean flute, and on this album two sizes or recorder, instruments often associated with rock, or jazz for that matter. On this album there is Dave Ball (bass guitar), Rod Dorothy (violin) and Bill Worall (keyboards).

TheBandThe sound of Paraphernalia is unique and cannot be described in words. On this album the tempos are very varied and the interplay between the musicians, and some electronic effects, is most exhilarating. Mostly the adjective is “beautiful”.
Originally released as “Pure Fantasy” the re-engineered release has been renamed “Nightwatch” (itself a very beautiful tune).

AboutThatAlbumIf you do not know the music of Paraphernalia then listen to this album. Just because it is now more than thirty years old is no reason not to. But beware! You may choose to buy more! Paraphernalia’s music can be addictive. (R. Bawden)
Dave Ball (bass)
Rod Dorothy (violin)
Jon Hiseman (drums, percussion)
Barbara Thompson (saxophone, flute, recorder)
Bill Worrall (keyboards)

01. Fields Of Flowers 4.38
02. The Coconut Hurling Game 5.17
03. Dusk 2.49
04. Nightwatch 4.22
05. Kafferinya 3.28
06. Chapter And Verse 6.16
07. To Ceres 1.59
08. Listen To The Plants 4.29
09. Pure Fantasy 3.18
10. Firefly 4.27

Music composed by Barbara Thompson


Barbara Thompson´s Paraphernalia – A Cry From The Heart – Live In London (1988)

FrontCover1Barbara Thompson’s music career started as a teenager at the Royal College of Music in London in the 1960s, where she studied clarinet, piano, flute and composition.

Taken to a Duke Ellington concert she became entranced by the saxophone and after meeting her future husband, drummer Jon Hiseman, in 1964, she rapidly became involved in the Jazz scene, absorbing the talents of the Miles Davis group, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane et al.

The key to Jazz performance is improvisation and Barbara realised that with her natural ‘ear’ she had been ‘making things up’ since she was a child.  As she started performing in Jazz clubs, she felt compelled to compose her own pieces – despite opposition from local Jazz musicians, who were often more comfortable playing ‘standards’…

In the mid 1970s Barbara formed her first group, Jubiaba, and later Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia – and went on to record more than 15 albums with the band, playing extensive tours across Europe roughly every 2 years until 2005.  She continues to perform occasionally, the band most recently having returned from a trip to Japan.

Barbara has appeared as featured musician on more than 100 albums, is a founder member of the United Jazz & Rock Ensemble – ‘The Band of Bandleaders’ – and has worked with a huge variety of artists from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Manfred Mann.  She has worked extensively for television – including being the composer and soloist for the theme music to the hit series ‘A Touch Of Frost’.

Barbara also played on the early Colosseum albums before joining the reunion band upon the death of Dick Heckstall-Smith in 2004.

In the early 1980s Barbara was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to write a series of pieces and she chose to compose modern classical works which re-awakened her interest in classical music, both as a performer and more importantly as a composer.

In the late 1990s Barbara was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and, as she was forced to cut down on her live appearances, she concentrated more and more on her composing.

And this is one of her gret albums with Paraphernalia, recorded live at the Riverside Studios, London (6 & 8th November 1987). It´s a hightlig in the history of British Jazz !

Paul Dunne (guitar)
Jon Hiseman (drums)
Peter Lemer (keyboards)
Phil Mulford (bass)
Barbara Thompson (saxophone, flute)

AlternateFrontCoverAlternate frontcover

01. Joy Ride 7.47
02. L’extreme Jonction 10.58
03. A Cry From The Heart 7.25
04. Entre Les Trous De La Memoire 6.07
05. Out To Lunch 5.30
06. Close To The Edge 9.41
07. Voices Behind Locked Doors 9.37
08. Eastern Western Promise Part 1 10.00
09. Eastern Western Promise Part 2  9.20

All titels composed by Barba Thompson