‘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)

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‘Effervescence’ – Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra

effervescence

TAKE A LOOK at that cover art – a clue to the polychromatic flamboyance of this new release from the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Formed fourteen years ago by renowned Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, the TSYJO has consistently provided an important, ongoing, step-up platform for young jazz musicians. This third album is a real joy because, rather than reflecting any insecure naivety of youth, Effervescence emphatically displays the orchestra’s unfettered go-for-it creativity, all backed up by solid musicality. In fact, all eight of these sumptuous tracks fizz without any trace of inhibition, Smith’s choice of material showcasing the players’ versatility.

The breathless, strummed pace of Woody Herman’s Apple Honey sets the tone. Complete with feisty wah-wah trumpet section and rolling saxes, Liam Shortall’s brash trombone antics are met with appreciative band cheers; and Helena Kay’s whirling, spirited clarinet connects with the piece’s origins. Jerome Kern’s familiar phrases in The Way You Look Tonight (lavishly arranged by Florian Ross) swing with life-affirming positivity, summoning a delicious alto spotlight from Adam Jackson, whilst a tangible rhythmic reduction clears the way for trombonist Kevin Garrity’s sublime, held-back solo. Glitzy Blues March (Benny Golson) parades to snappy snare, with infectious piano swing at its heart; and Florian Ross’ expansive arrangement of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty (more familiar in trio format) is imaginatively colorised by guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Pete Johnstone, including an intricate feature for drummer Stephen Henderson.

From within the orchestra’s ranks, trumpeter Sean Gibbs’ composition Tam O’Shanter coolly saunters to crunchy, pitch-bent rock guitar and high-blasting trumpets before its switch to an effusive, driven, spy-thriller of a middle section; and the big-band swing of Nefertiti (Miles Davis, arr. Ross) is becalmed for Michael Butcher’s lush tenor solo, supported by smooth, sustained trombone voices. The rapidity of Things To Come is audacious (you can almost sense Dizzy Gillespie applauding Sean Gibbs’ display from the wings), whilst the orchestra’s sensitivity to crescendi and diminuendi is especially notable, underpinning a fluvial alto solo from Helena Kay – altogether an utterly convincing performance. And Christian Jacob’s tightly-swung arrangement of Chick Corea’s Bud Powell, featuring tenorist Samuel Tessier, is both sleek and snappy.

Entertainingly feel-good, all the way, Tommy Smith and his players are to be congratulated on this exuberant release.

Effervescence is available from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra website or Amazon.

 

Tommy Smith director, producer

Helena Kay alto sax, clarinet
Adam Jackson alto sax
Samuel Tessier tenor sax
Michael Butcher tenor sax
Heather Macintosh baritone sax
Tom Walsh trumpet
Sean Gibbs trumpet
Joshua Elcock trumpet
Christos Stylianides trumpet
Cameron T Duncan trumpet
Tom Clay Harris trumpet
Michael Owers trombone
Liam Shortall trombone
Kevin Garrity trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Joe Williamson guitar
Fergus McCreadie piano
Pete Johnstone piano
David Bowden acoustic bass
Stephen Henderson drums

Also available: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s Beauty & the Beast – an original work composed and directed by Tommy Smith, with guest saxophonist Bill Evans.

tsyjo.com
snjo.co.uk
tommy-smith.co.uk

Spartacus Records – STS024 (2016)

‘Fragment’ – Jonathan Silk

jonathansilk_fragment

A BIG BAND ALBUM whose stratified multicolours and dynamics are echoed by the cover art of British painter/printmaker David Stanley, Fragment is the original work of award-winning drummer and composer Jonathan Silk.

Increasingly a major presence on the Midlands’ contemporary jazz scene, following on from his graduation at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011, the Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2014 has worked with luminaries such as Iain Ballamy, Stan Sulzmann, Liane Carroll and Soweto Kinch; and in addition to celebrated big band mentors Maria Schneider and Vince Mendoza, his drum tutors Jeff Williams and the late Tony Levin are cited as big influencers of his style.

Across a full hour, Jonathan Silk’s expansive canvas is varietally layered-up by impressive forces – a big band of 19 and a string section of 13 (just look at those credits below) – with fellow drummer Andrew Bain conducting and flugelhornist Percy Pursglove in a featured role (both are respected educators at Birmingham Conservatoire). Just as unfamiliar, abstract visual art can require time to develop, meld and be understood, this impressionistic approach has taken a while to reveal an identity; yet it increasingly entices with maturity of arrangement and strong musicianship, seamlessly blending scene after scene of energised drama (Silk on the drum stool) with rivulets of subtlety. In fact, rather than offering up the usual waymarked path of favourite tracks or standout melodies, it becomes an immersive experience in which to progressively savour different illuminations of the composer’s thoughts.

Softly grooving Buchaille (a beloved munro in the Scottish Highlands) luxuriates in close-knit brass and reeds, hitting high trumpet peaks before descending to quiet valleys of improvised trombone – but Silk’s way is to keenly press on as unison strings provide an almost Manhattan-style, bustling backdrop; and First Light‘s sustained serenity (recalling “a winter night spent with whiskey and friends, awaiting the snow reports at 6am”) supports Percy Pursglove’s mellow, watchful flugel, with the composer’s sensitive development fusing strings with a gently rhythmic momentum.

The drummer makes his mark in wildly percussive, brassy Prelude before segueing into South African-inspired Barefeet which fascinates with unpredictable jabbing piano and acoustic guitar – an example of the unlikely hues which Silk fashions. His searching miniature, Reflection, even suggests a route into movie soundtrack, preceding In Thought‘s similarly sublime, piano- and violin-graced journey. The spiky, perilous rock-guitar adventure of title track Fragment is a winner, teeming with electric bass-driven, saxophone-rippling life as guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford’s improvisations encourage bold, brass syncopation and a full-throttle display from Silk; and he is so adept in contrasting fervour with the finely-orchestrated tranquillity to be found in Withdrawal and end piece Last Light.

But it is perhaps Jonathan Silk’s broadest piece – eleven-minute Fool’s Paradise – which singly showcases his solidity and reach as a composer, the episodic variations (including inspired use of Hammond organ voice, and open spaces for extemporisation) providing a clear glimpse of a bright future. Hook up a few, memorable themes and there’ll be no stopping him!

As with most recordings, it’s a privilege to revisit and enjoy these luscious soundscapes at will – but it must certainly be exhilarating to also witness this scale of ardent musicality in a live setting. Good news, then, that 2017 tour dates are to be announced.

Released on Stoney Lane Records, Fragment is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.


Andrew Bain
conductor
Percy Pursglove flugelhorn

Mike Fletcher alto saxophone, flute
Chris Maddock alto saxophone
John Fleming tenor saxophone
Joe Wright tenor saxophone
Rob Cope baritone saxophone, bass clarinet
Tom Walsh trumpet, flugelhorn
Reuben Fowler trumpet, flugelhorn
Mike Adlington trumpet, flugelhorn
Matt Gough trumpet, flugelhorn
Kieran Mcleod trombone
Richard Foote trombone
Yusuf Narcin trombone
Andy Johnson tuba

Emily Tyrell violin (leader)
Katrina Davies violin
Sarah Farmer violin
Ning-ning Li violin
Beth Bellis violin
Kathryn Coleman violin
Zhivko Georgiev violin
Pei Ann Yeoh violin
Victoria Strudwick viola
Eileen Smith viola
Lucy French cello
Katy Nagle cello
Ayse Osman double bass

Thomas Seminar Ford guitar
Andy Bunting piano, Nord
Toby Boalch piano, Nord
Nick Jurd double bass, electric bass
Jonathan Silk drums
Tom Chapman percussion

Original art by David Stanley

jonathansilk.co.uk

Stoney Lane Records – SLR1977 (2016)

‘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)