Jazz for Brass

Kenny Wheeler
Brass Quintet
Richard Bissill
Los Jaraneros
Scott Stroman
Suite for Jazz Brass

Paul Beniston (trumpet)
Anne McAneney (trumpet)
Richard Bissill (horn)
Jeremy Price (trombone)
Lee Tsarmaklis (tuba)
Henry Lowther (trumpet)
Barnaby Dickinson (trombone)
Laurie Lovelle (guitar)
Paul Kimber (double bass)
Rachel Gledhill (percussion)
Nikki Iles (piano)
Kenny Wheeler (trumpet/flugelhorn)
Scott Stroman

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 25 February, 2006
Venue: St James's Church, Piccadilly, London

Faced with a dwindling core audience for their continuing diet of the core classical repertoire, British symphony orchestras are diversifying; musical sidelines previously considered subfusc are gathered under the official banner, and it is increasingly the norm for an orchestra to support a number of smaller, more flexible ensembles.

Renga (the name refers to a form of Japanese ‘chain poetry’ in which one adds new ideas to that which is already complete) draws on the varied talents of members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to explore jazz and world-music styles, often in collaboration with musicians from these genres; this concert put the brass section in the spotlight in an intriguing work by jazz trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler.

Wheeler’s Brass Quintet was unusual, not least in incorporating eight players; the conventional five were augmented by Wheeler and fellow trumpet Henry Lowther, as well as Nikki Iles on piano. This was a sober work in a predominantly neo-classical style, full of antiphonal counterpoint and long-limbed melodies unfurling over ostinato figuration. Particularly striking was an exchange of bare chords that recalled Mussorgsky’s ‘Catacombs’. Added to this were the three jazz musicians, who played short linking sequences between the nine movements, an improvisatory element that undermined the smooth surface of the music in a fascinating way. The effect was somewhere between Gabrieli and Gil Evans, and generated glorious rich sonorities that reverberated through Wren’s magnificent church.

The second half of the concert was in a lighter mood. Richard Bissill’s specially-composed Los Jaraneros was an effervescent big-band Latin number, the absence of saxophones from the line-up giving the assembled brass a chance to shine.

Finally, Scott Stroman’s Suite for Jazz Brass showed the composer’s knack for a catchy melody amid some unexpected orchestration. There was much to enjoy here: the swooping horn theme of the second movement; an incandescent battle between Kenny Wheeler and Henry Lowther in the Latin-tinged third; and a moment of sudden hush in the finale, when the groove was stripped back to a pointillist shimmer of piano, bass and guitar.

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