‘All In’ – Beats & Pieces Big Band

AllIn

TALK ABOUT Northern soul – these guys have it in three-storey-with-a-mezzanine-shed-loads!

Beats & Pieces Big Band have come a long way in seven years. From their tentative beginnings as Manchester students, through to their early EP and local gigs at Band on the Wall and the Royal Northern College of Music, they have developed a keen following which, on the basis of last year’s blazing Manchester Jazz Festival appearance, is swiftly on the rise. Their excellent 2012 debut album, Big Ideas, turned more than jazz heads, brought Jazz FM and Parliamentary awards, and prompted invitations to perform internationally.

Directed by enthusiastic composer, arranger and instrumentalist Ben Cottrell, and drawing big band comparisons such as Loose Tubes and Matthew Herbert (due to their infectious energy, use of electronics and an unorthodox, contemporary approach), 14-strong Beats & Pieces now release their much-anticipated follow-up, All In – a bristling statement of their current stature. Three powerful banks of three (saxes, trumpets and trombones) are completed by guitar, piano/Rhodes, bass and drums; and buried amongst the irrepressibly slick grooves, their quite-likely uniqueness is characterised by the occasional, endearing whiff of no-nonsense Lancashire colliery band (confirmed by the album’s tailpiece).

Collective influences include Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Radiohead and Björk… so the resultant six originals and one interpretation (recorded essentially live in the studio) are both dynamic and even entertainingly perplexing. Opener Rocky blasts its way through the first three minutes with all the gritty verve of an extreme, full-throttle movie car chase – raucous and wayward, yet somehow together. Pop hits a relentless, rapid, ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ groove, with Nick Walters’ chattering muted trumpet and Anton Hunter’s guitar riding the swelling, crashing then ebbing wall of horns, whilst Patrick Hurley’s ostinato Rhodes impression of Rain is particularly effective, underpinning tight, reverbed, brassy arrangements before soloing freely.

Ten-minute expanse Havmann (‘the man from the sea’, inspired by Antony Gormley’s statue installation in Mo í Rana, Northern Norway) feels like a new departure; its piercing, semitonal, synth rise-and-fall seems redolent of early Genesis or Robert Fripp, with the icy, spiky urgency of the overlapping extemporisations perhaps echoing the Scandinavian fjords experienced by Cottrell. Originally composed for and workshopped by Norwegian band Ensemble Denada, its impressive slowly-building intensity glints to Graham South’s echoic flugel horn and cinemascope unison trumpets.

Hendo is classic B & P – all solid bass drum, swirling baseline, impudent wah-wah guitar, crescendoing blasts and Sam Healey’s typically flamboyant soprano sax. Revealed a few years ago at an RNCM gig, Ben Cottrell’s sultry New York-style reading of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance finds its place here. A great example of the director’s prowess with arrangements of the unexpected, its lazy demeanour erupts into funky Average White Band euphoria, complete with cheeky, rising James Taylor (Starsky & Hutch) quotation courtesy of Sam Healey’s alto. And so to close, the aforementioned miniature of misty, brass band nostalgia, Fairytale – so beautiful in hymn-like simplicity.

Long may this forward-thinking band continue! All In is released on 8 June 2015, by Efpi Records, and is available here. The album officially launches at Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on 7 July 2015, and at Ronnie Scott’s the following evening.

 

Ben Cottrell director
Anthony Brown, Sam Healey, Ben Watte saxophones
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters trumpet
Ed Horsey, Simon Lodge, Rich McVeigh trombone
Anton Hunter guitar
Patrick Hurley piano, Rhodes
Harrison Wood bass
Finlay Panter drums

beatsnpieces.net

Efpi Records – FP022 (2015)

‘celebrating The Dark Side Of The Moon’ – Nguyên Lê / Michael Gibbs / NDR Bigband

NguyenLe

FOR ANY DIE-HARD Pink Floyd fan (arm held aloft here), the sight of a reinterpretation – a what?! – of their seminal 1973 colossus Dark Side Of The Moon might be met with an equal measure of trepidation and intrigue. After all, those of us whose teenage years were coloured by the thrill of ‘prog’ are likely to have this particular Gilmour, Waters, Wright & Mason album in their DNA, even to the very detail of guitar and vocal solos.

It’s been done before, of course – Ari Hoenig, The Flaming Lips, dubstep, reggae, string quartet, a cappella – and the initial signs here are particularly good: a concept fostered by Siggi Loch, on his go-ahead ACT label, with the venerable approval of Nick Mason and featuring dynamic guitarist Nguyên Lê (who has recorded exclusively with ACT for some time now, including collaborations with Pete Erskine and Michael Bonita). The anticipation, excitement and validity of this seemingly-audacious venture is further raised by the personnel involved – the renowned NDR Bigband realising the orchestrations of respected British composer, arranger and band leader Michael Gibbs, joined by Youn Sun Nah (vocals), Gary Husband (drums) and Jürgen Attig (fretless bass).

For this jazz/rock ‘celebration’, Nguyên Lê arranges all nine (or ten) numbers from the original, as well as weaving-in five self- and co-written Floyd-inspired miniatures. The transitions are remarkably organic, and Gibbs’ big band orchestrations frequently breathtaking, but how well do these familiar tracks translate into this new guise?

Heralded by the electronic cross-conversations of Speak To Me and Lê’s similarly impressionistic Inspire, the big vocal of Breathe is presented soulfully by Youn Sun Nah against a wall of big band splendour. Following on, the panicky momentum of On The Run is expertly effected by Jürgen Attig’s bass and Christof Lauer’s swirling soprano until, waking to radio-controlled timepieces, Time is cleverly reimagined, announced by Gary Husband’s thunderous toms and powerful big band blasts. There’s a tendency for Gilmour’s originally-relaxed, oscillating semitone lines to somehow become mechanical, even monotonous, in this arrangement, and Youn Sun Nah’s later lyric entry appears an unnecessary add-on. But, otherwise, it rocks to Lê’s distinctively complex guitar improvisations and electronics.

Magic Spells and the charming marching band-like Hear This Whispering (both from the pen of the guitarist) precede a dazzling adaptation of The Great Gig In The Sky, Clare Torry’s classic, impassioned (and presumably improvised) ’70s vocal imitated incredibly accurately by the blistering big band. That transcription is so satisfying, and all too brief, though segued by Jürgen Attig’s luxuriant, Jacoesque fretless bass and Nguyên Lê’s impossibly rapid guitar runs in Gotta Go Sometime.

The timeless 7/4 ‘prog’ wonder of Roger Waters’ Money translates magnificently here into super-funky, clav-driven brilliance, Gary Husband’s heavy-yet-bejewelled drums and percussion ringing through it as a golden thread; and the incisive rhythmic urgency in the band, plus Lê’s liquescent, amplified lead, is mind-boggling – a triumph, in fact. Us And Them is ingeniously reshaped – a delicate oriental motif which extends into big band grandeur, Fiete Felsch offering a beautifully effortless alto solo; and, again, Lê prompts sympathetic improvisation – the trumpet of Claus Stötter – in his Purple Or Blue. Full-on groover Any Colour You Like leads to Youn Sun Nah’s psycho-interpreted Brain Damage, maintaining its bizarre combination of disturbance and affirmation, again rippling to Husband’s extraordinary drum prowess; and closing, there’s the heightened big band illumination of Waters’ anthemic Eclipse.

Having had this running through my veins for the past few weeks, its overriding success has really caught my attention – and, along with the ’41-year-old’ on the CD shelf, it has pleasingly become something of a repeat player!

Released on 3 November 2014, further details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Nguyên Lê electric guitar, electronics
Youn Sun Nah vocals
Gary Husband drums
Jürgen Attig electric fretless bass

NDR BIGBAND conducted by Jörg Achim Keller:
Thorsten Benkenstein
trumpet
Benny Brown trumpet
Ingolf Burkhardt trumpet
Claus Stötter trumpet
Reiner Winterschladen trumpet
Fiete Felsch alto saxophone, flute
Peter Bolte alto saxophone, flute
Christof Lauer tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Lutz Büchner tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Sebastian Gille tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Marcus Bartelt baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Dan Gottshall trombone
Klaus Heidenreich trombone
Stefan Lottermann trombone
Ingo Lahme tuba, bass trombone
Vladyslav Sendecki piano and synths
Marcio Doctor percussion

Orchestrations by Michael Gibbs
All arrangements by Nguyên Lê, except tracks 4, 14 & 15 by Michael Gibbs
Special thanks to Nick Mason

ACT Music – ACT 9574-2 (2014)

‘Petite Fleur’ – Christof Lauer & NDR Bigband play Sidney Bechet

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TAKING THE MUSIC of one of New Orleans jazz’s pioneers, Sidney Bechet, and significantly reimagining it for present-day big band may seem a touch audacious, and even unlikely – but this new release from German saxophonist Christof Lauer and the NDR Bigband, focusing on the output of saxophonist and clarinettist Bechet and his contemporaries, confounds any doubt with a scintillating performance.

By accounts a cavalier and larger-than-life character known for his brash, wide vibrato, Sidney Bechet found success in the early 1920s, his quaint archive recordings now very much ‘of the period’. Moving on almost a century, it was ACT boss Siggi Loch (whose early introduction to jazz was via the music of Bechet) who prompted Christof Lauer to consider revisiting and reinterpreting his music. The resulting transformation is both striking and accessibly attractive, due to the insightful, lush big band arrangements of Rainer Tempel and their dynamic, meticulous execution by Lauer and the NDR.

Dans Les Rues D’Antibes is a stunning opener – tuneful, and brimming with bright harmonic and percussive verve (sample Bechet’s original to understand its metamorphosis into a 21st Century sound world!). The NDR Bigband have a history of recordings with great instrumental leaders (Joe Zawinul, Alan Broadbent, Mark Lockheart, Mike Gibbs, Norma Winstone…), and here they share a similar affinity with Christof Lauer who, perhaps echoing the flamboyance of Bechet, dazzles with rapid ascending and descending soprano runs. This arrangement grows with multi-layered complexity, including expansive piano work from Hubert Nuss; and a deliciously close-knit saxophone ensemble interlude crowns a tremendously joyful number.

The original, fast-paced quirkiness of Les Oignons is magically interpreted by Tempel into mid-tempo brassy and reedy sumptuousness, Fender Rhodes completing the downtown ’70s feel. Following Lauer’s own lissome solo interlude, September, the impetus of Bechet’s Petite Fleur is maintained by a muted, questioning big band backing, Lauer’s soprano showboating against Patrice Héral’s incisive drumming and a riproaring trumpet solo; meanwhile, the Arabic impressionism of Casbah – Song of the Medina smoulders to a mysterious Rhodes ostinato and trombone counterpoint, conjuring filmic images of subterfuge and high drama. Similarly, that twee, trad. memory of Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose that I carry in my mind now becomes, in the hands of Lauer and the NDR, a slowburning, eight-minute thriller movie prelude, bright unison brass and electronics supporting Lauer’s rich tenor lines.

The jaunty, homely Si Tu Vois Ma Mère connects more readily to Sidney Bechet’s Louisiana roots – a charming offering led by Lauer’s soprano, though not without a strangely sinister undercurrent; and Harry Barris’s Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a number Bechet would, no doubt, have held in his repertoire – is brought right up to date with a funky, smooth jazz slant. Finally, Jimmy McHugh’s classic On the Sunny Side of the Street melts the heart with Tempel’s sophisticated-yet-carefree big band arrangement, Lauer’s ‘Bechet’ taking the final, showy bow.

It’s a glorious project whose intention captures my imagination, recalling Sidney Bechet’s early contribution to the genre, but also demonstrating the relevance of our current jazz scene in arranging and improvising bygone standards for a new and, in my experience, receptive generation.

Released in the UK on 2 June 2014, further information and audio samples are available here.

 

Christof Lauer soprano & tenor saxophone
Hubert Nuss piano
Patrice Héral drums
NDR Bigband conducted by Rainer Tempel

ACT 0657-2 (2014)

‘Between Shadows’ – Reuben Fowler

BetweenShadows

FROM THE very first horns entry, this debut album from Kenny Wheeler Prize-winning trumpeter/composer Reuben Fowler announces its clear intent – contemporary big band artistry of significant stature!

Only a short time since graduation from the Royal Academy of Music, and just a handful of years from picking up his instrument as a teenager, Fowler has mustered an incredible line-up of musicians to play out the creativity that seemingly gushes from his passion for this field of jazz! The personnel is on outstanding form, boasting such names as Stan Sulzmann, Jim Hart, Tom Harrell, George Crowley, with Dave Hamblett (drums) and Matt Robinson (piano and Rhodes).

Opening number ‘Too Minor’ (written by the late Richard Turner) is an absolute tour de force, brimming with confidence and impetus, building in energy and complexity as it progresses. The mellow ‘Holness’, with George Crowley leading both smoothly and lithely on clarinet, is introduced with tight brass harmonies which then extend out into lush scoring for the whole band. Indeed, the writing is exceptional throughout this album – accessible, yet overflowing with ideas which twist and turn away from the conventional (not unlike Dave Holland’s large-scale projects).

‘Dundry (for JGB)’, written for alto sax soloist James Gardiner-Bateman and referencing his south-of-Bristol residence, presents a ten-minute groove-driven stand-out track, with Hart’s vibes and Alex Munk’s guitar suggesting a landscape more Manhattan than Somerset (Fowler & Hutch, maybe?!), complete with brassy crescendos. It just pulls you under its spell, with Tom Harrell’s flugelhorn the perfect Hubbard-like lead, and Gardiner-Bateman providing a wonderfully jarring sax line – magnificent right through to its TV theme tune close!

The five-part suite ‘Between Shadows’ neatly incorporates an exquisite arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, the tempo eventually changing up a gear to showcase ravishing improvisations including that of trombonist, Robbie Harvey, backed by Jim Hart. Voices add another dimension to ‘The Lost’ and ‘The Lost and the Found’ (gorgeous tone from Brigitte Beraha), with Stan Sulzmann embellishing brightly on soprano – and Fowler plays flugel so assuredly and sensitively beyond his years. Tenor player Joe Wright features on ‘Ending’, drawing this generous release (recorded in just two days) to a close.

We are told that the pieces in the suite ‘Between Shadows’ are a response to poetry which suggests ‘something special, to cherish’. That is certainly the case here, and Reuben Fowler deserves all the accolades that are sure to come his way – firstly, for his compositional maturity, and then for the achievement of masterminding such an accomplished and illustrious group of musicians to breathe life into his music.

As is the Edition Records way, the production is crystal clear, capturing the detail from the full range of dynamics to present this big band in all its glory. A real winner of an album, which is launched at The Forge, London, 25 July 2013.

Edition Records – EDN1042 (2013)