Shrewsbury Jazz Orchestra with special guest, Laura Collins
Saturday 14th September 2013
What a great start to our Autumn season. A full house and a fantastic audience.
Here is a lovely review by Ian Mann of www.thejazzmann.com
Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s autumn programme got off to a great start with this sold out performance by local heroes the Shrewsbury Jazz Orchestra who performed two lengthy sets of superbly arranged big band music with some items augmented by the voice of guest singer Laura Collins.
The musicians in the SJO mainly come from the Shrewsbury area but the Orchestra’s talent pool extends to many of the Midlands’ leading jazz players with a number of Birmingham based musicians swelling the band’s ranks.
The SJO is directed by Jim Mould, once the pianist of the band and still a performer on that instrument in small group settings. The evening began with the rhythm section of Stuart Goodhew (electric piano), Simon King (electric bass) and Carl Hemmingsley (drums) already on stage and playing as Mould called the three sections of four trumpets, four trombones and five reeds to the stage, the musicians walking through the crowd to generous applause. The tune proved to be Jobim’s “One Note Samba” with solos coming from Val Swingler on alto sax and Goodhew at the piano.
This lively opening was followed by the even more rousing “Lickety Splitz”, originally arranged by American trombonist Tom Garling for the book of the Maynard Ferguson Big Band. Swingler again asserted her credentials as one of the SJO’s leading soloists with a fluent and incisive solo that was reminiscent of such great players as Jackie McLean and the UK’s own Peter King. The piece was crowned by a drum feature from Hemmingsley, one of the most consistent and in demand musicians on the Birmingham jazz scene.
Simon King is a remarkable multi instrumentalist. A leading figure on the Midlands jazz circuit he plays guitar, bass and drums with equal brilliance and a quiet confidence. He normally fills the drum chair for the SJO but had moved across to bass in the absence of regular incumbent John Dover leaving room for Hemmingsley to come in on the traps. King is also a skilled arranger and his imaginative adaptation specifically for the SJO of Clifford Brown’s classic “Joyspring” genuinely was a joy. There were extended passages for each of the three horn sections (trumpets, saxes, trombones) with these punctuated by more conventional jazz solos by Goodhew, trumpeter Antony Stevens and tenor saxophonist Roy Johnson. King even allowed himself a brief cameo on electric bass. Storming stuff.
At this juncture Jim Mould welcomed guest vocalist Laura Collins to the stage for a rousing version of “The Song Is You”, slightly marred by microphone problems, a touch of feedback and excessive reverb, that thankfully was quickly sorted out. Originally from Cardiff but now based in Birmingham Collins made a very favourable impression with her 2010 album “Baltimore Oriole”, a very classy release on Spotlite Records featuring an excellent trio of Barry Green (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Matt Skelton (drums) with strong guest appearances from trumpeter Dick Pearce and guitarist Sam Dunne. Since then she’s taken time out for the birth of her first child, a son, but is happily now back singing again. “The Look Of Love” featured a gentler arrangement which saw Swingler switching to flute.
Collins continued to demonstrate her range and flexibility with a lovely version of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks”, here with a new lyric and title by Norma Winstone that transformed the tune into the song “A Timeless Place”. This version of the piece was arranged by Birmingham based saxophonist Mike Fletcher with sumptuous horn voicings accompanying Collins’ assured Winstone like vocals. The lyrics were typical Norma Winstone, wordy, poetic and evocative with knowing references to the peacocks of Rowles’ title.
Collins’ first guest slot ended much as it began with singer and band gleefully tearing into “S’Wonderful” in typically rousing fashion.
The first half was rounded off by no fewer than three big band arrangements beginning with “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” , a feature for Stevens on flugel horn. The tune was divided into two distinct sections, the first featuring Stevens’ sensuous ballad playing, the second completely different in feel and tempo as he demonstrated his bop chops with only Goodhew, King and Hemmingsley for company, the tune finishing with a lively drum feature.
“Grace” began with an opening chorus for the fourteen horns only before evolving into a tenor saxophone feature for local hero Ed Rees.
The first half closed with the splendidly funky “Conspiracy Theory” with King’s thick, juicy bass grooves the launch point for a feature for the trombone section of John Herbert, Dave Hayward, Reuben Aldridge and Andy Derrick. Birmingham based Derrick, one of the best known names in the SJO ranks, continued the momentum with an ebullient solo that owed something to the style of Gary Valente (ex Carla Bley Band) with Rees later taking over on r’n'b infused tenor. A storming end to a hugely enjoyable first half that was very well received by a capacity audience, possibly the largest I’ve ever seen at The Hive.
Following a well earned beer break the members of the SJO trickled their way back to the bandstand, no grand entrance this time! Last to take their positions were King and Hemmingsley, perhaps making up for their early arrival for the first set. However there was no let up in the energy or quality of the music. Under the baton of the amiable Mould SJO are a skilful, well drilled unit with an obvious enthusiasm for the music.
Set two began with US big band arranger Bob Florence’s “Carmelo’s By The Freeway”, a stirring call to arms featuring solos by Rees on tenor (carrying on where he left off) and Stevens on trumpet plus a series of drum breaks from the excellent Hemmingsley.
“Stolen Moments” featured the muscular tenor of Johnson, and the McLean like alto of Swingler, the latter bookended by trombone features for Derrick and Aldridge.
The music of Maynard Ferguson is a particular favourite of SJO director Jim Mould. Indeed Mould was lucky enough to see Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band on the trumpeter’s 70th birthday tour back in 1998. The night’s second Ferguson tune was a bright and punchy “Cruisin’ For A Bluesin’” with some bravura open horn trumpet soloing from Stevens as he stepped into the Ferguson slot. Others to excel were Derrick on trombone and the saxophone section who passed the lead around the altos and tenors. The piece was climaxed by Hemmingsley at the drums and by the end both band and audience seemed in need of a breather.
This was partially provided by the return of Collins, sporting her second costume of the evening as she got back into the spirit of jazz diva-dom. The song was “Gentle Rain” with Stevens excelling on flugel during a brief instrumental section.
The singer was at her most flirtatious and theatrical on “Alright, Okay, You Win” , a tune made famous by Peggy Lee. The band played some great charts too.
Collins is also an excellent ballad singer and exuded real emotion on the evergreen “Cry Me A River”. Then it was another character change for a storming “St’ Louis Blues” which the vocalist dedicated to wronged women everywhere before delivering the lyrics of WC Handy’s songs in vituperative, mock theatrical fashion. Great stuff. I’ve only seen or heard Collins in small group contexts before and it was interesting to see her fronting a big band. Occasionally she had to resort to shouting to make herself heard but on the whole this was a performance she grew into, becoming increasingly relaxed and vivacious, particularly in the second set. It’s good to have her back.
The SJO draw on admirably wide range of sources and it was an unexpected pleasure to find a Pat Metheny tune included in the set, “Always And Forever” from Pat’s “Secret Story” album. A warm arrangement featured Stevens’ flugel at its most rounded and velvety, this contrasting nicely with the more “full on” band passages. I’m aware that big band arrangements of Metheny tunes are not uncommon and that the (very good) London based Big Band Metheny specialise in such renditions but as a Metheny fan it was still good to hear it.
Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’” was a feature for baritone saxophonist Sarah Lewis, a real low register fest with its bari vamp and solo and with Andy Derrick weighing in too on growling trombone.
The band just love playing funk charts and closed with the strutting “The Chicken” , opening with a brassy fanfare before King set up the groove, the bassist sharing the solos with tenor sax and piano. The crowd loved it and the band needed little coaxing back for an encore, staying with the funk on an item whose title I forgot to note, basically because I was enjoying myself too much to bother with technicalities. However I do remember that it featured Ed Rees on soprano.
This was a really enjoyable night of music making. For an essentially “amateur” band (of tonight’s performers only Collins and Derrick appear to have their own websites) the SJO play to an extraordinarily high standard and in Jim Mould they have a director who brings the best out of them and presents the music in an informative and easy going manner. A sell out audience containing many family and friends gave them a great reception but make no mistake they earned it.
It was also good to see Laura Collins singing again. Her contribution was also much appreciated by the Hive audience and it’s to be hoped that she can continue to work around motherhood and become more fully involved with the jazz scene once more, a second album is long overdue.
But at the end of the day this was the SJO’s night, it’s easy to see just why they’re so popular with local audiences. Tonight’s bumper attendance also revealed that there’s a ready market out there for big band jazz, something that makes the BBC’s decision to axe it’s Big Band Special programme and reduce the budget of the BBC Big Band appear even more ridiculous and untenable.
I don’t like to end on a gripe so to paraphrase Jim Mould congratulations to everyone involved for a great evening’s music “Live at The Hive”.
Thanks also to Geoff Inwood for featuring the event on his website