‘Live’ – Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra

TomHaines_live

COMPOSER, conductor and drummer Tom Haines’ live recording with The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra confirms just how adaptable, relevant and imaginative this large-scale jazz format continues to be.

The West Midlands is significant in nurturing some remarkable musicians, highlighted recently by solo albums from two members of this 17-strong ensemble, Jonathan Silk and Ben Lee; and the line-up’s emerging talent – captured at a scintillating 2016 performance celebrating 30 years of Stratford Jazz – also includes saxophonists Vittorio Mura and John Fleming, trumpeters Tom Syson and Sean Gibbs, plus trombonists Kieran McLeod and David Sear. Most of Tom Haines’ five substantial works here have garnered prizes and a commendation, either for composition or arrangement, at European competitions in recent years (Italy, Denmark, Belgium and UK) – the quicksilver energy and undulating, moody impressions conjured in this crystalline recording, with only the subtlest hint of enthused audience context, soon suggest why.

The definition of ‘big band’ versus ‘orchestra’ may be ambiguous, but Haines’ overarching approach to composition is both cohesive and prismatic, with opener Yitzoid‘s funk-infused rhythms and full arrangements (with some great, antiphonal bopping) opening the way for shapely solos from altoist Chris Young and trumpeter Sean Gibbs. At the beating heart of the edginess is a crackling rhythm section – Ben Lee (guitar), David Ferris (piano), Stuart Barker (double bass) and Jonathan Silk (drums) – heightening the dynamics, with the whole connecting so effectively. David Ferris is already proving himself to be an expressive pianist, his poetic reflections introducing thirteen-minute Mystery Dog (Mr E Dog), a snappy affair encouraging Alicia Gardener-Trejo’s wily baritone sax, Elliot Drew’s flighty soprano and wonderfully bombastic trombone from Kieran McLeod. It’s easy to be carried along on the crest of these luscious solos, but also listen out for Haines’ many details, such as swooning horn phrases and the rise and fall of closely-clustered harmonies.

Remembrance, with its personal dedication, ebbs and flows with sectional colour, as well as an openness to prompt the delicate solo artistry of guitarist Ben Lee and flugelhornist Mike Adlington; Haines’ skill in sustaining beauty and interest over ten minutes is to be applauded. The urgent vocals of Rosie Harris (with lyrics inspired by Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s ‘The Book of the Serpent’) inform the dramatic delivery of Strange Utopia – and whether or not narrative in vocalised jazz can readily be understood, it’s nevertheless full of overdriven-guitar vibrancy. To close, Whistleblower‘s impertinent, interrupted stomp is a gem, its muted honks eliciting similar, rippling expressions from Vittorio Mura’s tenor – quite, quite irresistible!

A live album for all the right reasons – capturing the mutual electricity between orchestra and audience, with great attention to the recorded audio – Live is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, with scores/parts available from Tom Haines’ website.

 

Tom Haines composer, conductor

Elliot Drew soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Chris Young alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone, clarinet
Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, clarinet
Alicia Gardener-Trejo baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute

Tom Syson lead trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Hugh Pascall trumpet

Richard Foote trombone
Kieran McLeod trombone
David Sear trombone
Andrew Clennell bass trombone

Ben Lee guitar
David Ferris piano
Stuart Barker double bass
Jonathan Silk drums

with
Rosie Harris
vocals (on Strange Utopia)

Live recording, editing mixing and mastering by Luke Morrish-Thomas

tomhainesmusic.com

Self-released – THMCD001 (2017)

‘In The Tree’ – Ben Lee Quintet

inthetree

MUSIC CONTRIBUTES IMMEASURABLY to our human existence, accompanying us through joy, grief, reflection, love… and dropping from the leafy cover illustration of guitarist/composer Ben Lee’s debut quintet album In The Tree comes unabashed vivacity in the form of one of this year’s most entertaining, occasionally whimsical jazz offerings.

Originally hailing from Devon, and now based in London, Birmingham Conservatoire jazz guitar graduate Lee is not only an accomplished instrumentalist, but clearly cherry-picks whatever sounds and genres please him in order to create his phantasmagorical world. And colleagues Chris Young, Richard Foote, David Ferris and Euan Palmer are up for it, too, in an unconventional line-up which enjoys the earthy sustenance of organ and boasts great dual-horn fervour.

It’s remarkable that, no matter how often these ten tracks are heard, they possess a joyful unpredictability and tremendous variety – yet they’re strongly rooted and beautifully constructed in jazz. The opening Folk Theme, for example, seems to draw on ’60s movie themes (Enio Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ comes to mind), encouraged by its sinewy guitar sound and undulating, tremulant organ (no need for a bassist); yet it blasts heady trombone and sax riffs over vibrant drumming. Title track In The Tree‘s playful demeanour is redolent of the folksy trio outings of Frode Alnaes, Arild Andersen and Stian Carstensen, its smilingly carefree, whistled melody improvised upon throughout with glee; and First Contact‘s slick, big-band weight also grooves infectiously to Lee’s country guitar (‘has to be heard!).

Hygge pictorialises that Danish expression of candlelit conviviality and intimacy through lush chordal organ and mellow, Wes Montgomery-styled guitar; Beginning of the End‘s breathless ‘Brazil 66′-like animation, underpinned by David Ferris’ bubbling organ baseline, offers so much fascination inside five and half minutes, including the tight trombone and alto pairing of Richard Foote and Chris Young, as well as Lee’s no-holes-barred Jimmy Page guitar rockiness; and the buzzing, harmonic colour of Drone builds through anthemic, canonic layering. Swingin’ Scratching the Itch (which, Lee says, reflects his mildly addictive personality) wildly crashes and sears up and down the frets – and the overall band verve, carried by Euan Palmer’s fervent percussion, is electric.

Tuneful, Barbados-inspired Kickin’ the Chicken summons steel pans and sunshine as Chris Young’s warm, meandering alto glides across the feel-good rhythm; Nirvana‘s expansive, rasping energy melds indie rock with cinematic score (one of, frankly, many standouts); and twee, acoustic vocal/guitar endpiece Skateboarding On My Own, if nothing else, demonstrates Lee’s indubitable chordal precision.

Such an eclectic mix might well cause a few to scratch their heads – and, sure, it has its moments of almost naive levity. But when, without preconception, you slot in a new CD and it brings a smile, warms your heart, cranks up your spirit and ends up on repeat play… well, such reactions are the essence of good music.

Festooned with delights, and yours for the climbing (released 21 October 2016), In The Tree is available as CD or digital download from Stoney Lane Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Ben Lee guitar, composition
Chris Young alto saxophone
Richard Foote trombone
David Ferris organ
Euan Palmer drums

Illustration: ningningli.com

benleeguitar.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1892 (2016)

‘A Moveable Feast’ – Mark Pringle

MarkPringle

WHO WOULD IMAGINE that quite such a breadth of engaging, meaningful jazz creativity might be realised inside 32 minutes?

24 year-old British pianist Mark Pringle has increasingly been making waves with his singular and adventurous approach to music-making. When he was just 19, about to embark on a scholarship at Birmingham Conservatoire, he appeared with his teacher, the splendid John Law, on duo album This Is; and earlier this year, he won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, as well as receiving an accolade to treasure from the sadly, recently-departed John Taylor, confirming him to be “an exceptionally gifted pianist and composer, and a remarkable improviser.”

Pringle’s inspiration for this debut album arose from his studies in Paris, drawing on cultural and naturalistic influences such as the work of Olivier Messaien and taking to heart author Ernest Hemingway’s memoirs of the capital: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Remarkably, in his writing for 12-piece ensemble, the pianist appears to ingest and then musically express the varietal sounds of the city, not unlike the way Messaien interpreted birdsong; and there are also hints of Ravel’s jazz inflections. It can all be found in opening number A Real Bombshell, whose skittering, shunting impressions might well reflect the chaos of a Paris rush hour. With string quartet at its heart, it has an attractive big band dynamism, offering a fantastic weave of brass and reed textures (reminiscent of Mark Lockheart’s evergreen Ellington in Anticipation) as Percy Pursglove’s shrill trumpet rises out of the clamour. Ode to the Trees evokes a moonlit woodland exploration, its quietly bluesy piano groove prompting an almost alarming crescendo of hoots, chatters and squawks from an ensemble heading towards the stature of Count Basie (with frissons of Carla Bley).

Bookended by the quirkiness of two miniatures, Happy Plants I & II (first, the strings’ playful pizzicato, and then an intriguing New Orleans/calypso hybrid), Hasha’s Theme seems to draw on Gershwin and Ellington – and the maturity of Pringle’s arrangement brings out both lush and jarring major/minor horns, fronted by Chris Young’s fabulously nonchalant alto. The Writer (Hemingway perhaps) is mischievous, its tentative first steps emphasising how well the strings and woodwind integrate; and both this and following track Through the Grate further reveal Mark Pringle’s knack of slowly unfolding a dramatic, trembling landscape with flecks and fizzes of orchestral colour, as well as sudden changes of tempi and dynamics (neither recommended for an iPod playlist along a dark country track!). And the final snippet, a windband-like And That’s OK, settles the equilibrium…… or does it?

Here is a recording which, in terms of composition, improvisation and overall musicianship, is exquisitely formed; yet it also alludes to many greater heights yet to be conquered. Released on Stoney Lane Records on 18 September 2015, A Moveable Feast is available at Bandcamp and also at iTunes.

 

Mark Pringle piano
Percy Pursglove trumpet
Chris Young alto saxophone
Dan Sarjeant tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, flute
Alicia Gardener-Trejo bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, alto flute
Christine Cornwell violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Megan Jowett viola
Lucy French cello
Ben Lee electric guitar
James Banner double bass
Euan Palmer drums

markpringlemusic.com

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1954 (2015)