Category Archives: CD Reviews

Real Book North West – Real Book North West

In 2005 when Mancunian keyboard player John Ellis first conceived the idea of creating a real book of tunes written solely by jazz composers from the North West, he couldn’t have guessed that things would have come this far. With Real Book North West successfully in circulation, a lengthy supporting UK tour, and now this Jazz Services funded CD available to buy, the project has been one the most successful and daring promotions of regional jazz for some time.

Competing with the tradition real book of standards that includes ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Take the A Train’ is a tall order, but really anyone seeing it that way is kind of missing the point. Real Book North West is a complementary addition to any regional jazzers gigging repertoire, as well as being a way for national and even international players to hear more of the original music that has come out of the North West over the years.

On this CD we are presented with a selection of 15 of the publication’s best offerings and by its very nature it’s a mixed bag of ideas and moods that range from Ulrich Elbracht’s joyfully uplifting ‘Anything You Like’ to Simon Picton’s spiky, film noir inflected ‘Blue Chilli’. With a line up that includes Andy Schofield (saxs), Mike Walker (gtr), Les Chisnall (p), Steve Berry (bs) and Dave Walsh (dr), the standard of playing on this recording is predictably high. This quintet is made up of the region’s premiere instrumentalists and listening to this album it is evident that there is a long musical history and established empathy between all of them. Having seen this group play at the launch of the Real Book several years ago and last summer on the Manchester leg of their national tour, it is obvious that this project mean a lot to them. Throughout, the playing is passionate and considered, and highlights do come thick and fast. It is especially good to see promising emerging composers such as bassist Matt Owens on the track-list alongside the more established writers like Mike Walker or Les Chisnell, who both actually deliver some of recordings’ best writing and delivery. Chisnell’s ‘Shadow of a Dream’ stands out as being a particularly potent blend of melancholy and reverential beauty.

Overall this is an essential CD for anyone who has any sort of an interest in the North West’s ever growing jazz pedigree. Compositions are both broad in scope and encouragingly original, undoubtedly proving that they can hold their own on bandstands wherever the real book may find itself in the years ahead.


Large and Loose – Manifesto

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.

The Ribble Valley Jazz Club Band – Lunchtime Live at the Grand

Ahead of the first annual Ribble Valley Jazz Festival in Clitheroe this month, it seems apt to review a live recording of the one of the club’s popular lunchtime concerts. Only established in 2007, Ribble Valley Jazz and Blues have worked tirelessly to achieve what they have thus far. What began simply as a way for local players to get together and jam has resulted in a solid band that plays regularly, a series of jazz workshops for younger players, a youth big band competition and now an annual jazz festival. As well as establishing a healthy schedule of local gigs and events, the organisation has also attracted some of the country’s premier acts including Steve Berry, Alan Barnes and Eric Ainsworth.

Recorded at one of the Club’s lunchtime concerts at the Grand in Clitheroe, this CD does a good job of showcasing some of this region’s talent. Lead by Brian Taylor on saxophone, flute and harmonica, this particular unit play through 13 tracks of varying pace and mood. Taylor himself is on excellent form, especially on Autumn Leaves where his subtle flute playing dances above the Kevin Morris’ measured guitar. On other tracks though Morris digs deep and provides some of the best solos of the session. On Angel Eyes the group adopt an almost rolling blues backdrop for the guitarist to crunch through some muscular lines. Nick Mohan is an economic pianist who chooses his notes with care, and along with bassist Ed Harrison and Tom Rice on drums, he plays a major part in keeping this quintet knitted together well.

The Magic Hat Ensemble – This Conversation is Over

This Manchester based group was forged out of the city’s healthy jamming scene and by the sound of this, their debut recording; their chops are all the sharper for it. ‘This Conversation is Over’ is an album of standards that manages to achieve the difficult task of maintaining a distinctive voice throughout. Quirky metres and off kilter arrangements are the deal of the week here, with classic tracks such as Monk’s Epistrophy being given the Magic treatment with some extreme syncopation and playful phrasing. Guitarist Tony Ormesher steps forward with a particularly fluid delivery on this occasion, but the truth be told, there seems to be no one player in this group that gives any slack.

The pace and tone of the record varies throughout with injections of energy being applied on tracks such as Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up Jumping Spring’, or ‘This Song is You’, in which trumpet player Steve Chadwick opts for a more muscular approach than Chet Baker’s classic envisioning of the song.  Interspersed with these moments of straight ahead adrenaline, there are some wonderful pit stops where the band are able to slow things down and show that they are capable of delivering elegance and poignancy  too. Kenny Barron’s Voyage is given a particularly sophisticated going over with bassist Nick Blacka delivering shades and shadows of film noir inflections throughout.

Due to both the dynamic choice of tunes and the high level of playing that is delivered without, this is very likeable a debut CD that is bursting with ideas.

Beats & Pieces Big Band EP

From its explosive opening bars until its final lingering hum, the Beats & Pieces Big Band’s first EP is nothing less than a bombardment of the senses. The brainchild of Manchester based composer Ben Cottrell, this sizable affair unites the cream of Manchester’s emerging jazz talent, including Sam Andreae (t. sax), Fin Panter (dr), and Graham South (trp).

At its core the ensemble is traditional big band, but by cross-stitching a multitude of genres to its already rich tapestry of sound, something both unique and fresh has emerged. On tracks such as Yafw (part iii) there are reminisces of Quincy Jones’ more malevolent 1970s blaxploitation soundtracks; the underlying latino groove being almost chased along by the dangerously edgy horn section.

Elsewhere, the compositions also show a real elegant restraint, with classy arrangements that show the record’s maturity. This is most notable in the EP’s final track, Broken, which also manages to combine subtle electronic elements successfully. Bjork is evidently an influence, and here the highly lyrical playing is matched with an almost Nordic chill, which acts as calming digestif after some of the more frenzied earlier tracks.

This is a rich and colourful first CD that comfortably combines Hendrixesque guitar riffs, Herbie Hancock style funk, and even inflections of Eno’s ambient music. While for many groups this osmosis of ideas would produce a conflicting overall sound, Beats & Pieces Big Band have created something that’s both catchy and original.

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