While it’s been twenty years since the influential British big band Loose Tubes last congregated to play their off kilter and proudly idiosyncratic music together, original bass player Steve Berry now resides in the North West where he leads a fluid and impromptu orchestra of students from Liverpool’s Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) in the mould of his old band.
Having seen Large and Loose play a storming gig in Liverpool earlier this month, I had high expectations for this album when it dropped through my post box last week, and I haven’t been disappointed. Although Manifesto is played by a different set of students from the one I saw live – due to the revolving annual nature of university music departments, this album certainly captures the same joyous and elegantly chaotic feeling that the original Loose Tubes records are so fondly remembered for.
The 12 tracks contained on this record are made up of a range of tunes, including several of Berry’s own compositions, and some choice standards including, Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, and one of the best versions of Fairy Tale of New York that I have ever heard (I’m not exaggerating). From Rachel Gladwin’s (now a permanent fixture of Matthew Halsall’s excellent band) flowing opening harp to Paul Coupe’s explosive final solo, this tune is as rousing as an a hot shot of brandy on Christmas eve.
The inclusion of the Django Bates’ Yellow Hill, from Loose Tubes eponymous debut, is a welcome nod to the old days, as well as a reminder that the standard of playing from these emerging LIPA students is outstanding. Marco Bernardis puts in a particularly good appearance on the tenor here alongside Jesus Portilla whose accordion playing adds a continental textural wash over the whole record.
Perhaps it’s because of my own personal craving for all things Loose Tubes recently, or the fact that this Large and Loose big band make such great together noise together, but I have been playing this record non-stop since I got a hold of it. With its carefully juxtaposed Ellingtonian sophistication and densely packed Latin rhythms, Steve Berry’s influence is all over this; and it really is a joy. This is a unique album from a promising set of musicians.