Rockin’ in Rhythm
Sweet Time Suite – Know Where You Are
The Groove Merchant
The Queen’s Suite – Sunset and the Mocking Bird
Agro Alegría [BBC commission: world premiere]
Tim Garland (saxophones) & Mark Mondesir (drums)
National Youth Jazz Orchestra
Mark Armstrong (trumpet & conductor)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 10 August, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Duke Ellington’s Rockin’ in Rhythm (1930) – heard in its expanded 1960 version which incorporates the groove-setting ‘Kinda Dukish’ preamble – set the scene with its tumbling solos, not least Louis Dowdeswell in the stratospheric trumpet turn. Nikki Iles’s Hush (2010), the title-track from her inviting and resourceful new album, then provided a much needed breathing space with its ethereal introduction and diaphanous interplay of saxes and brass, while Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Know Where You Are’ – the scherzo from his ground-breaking Sweet Time Suite (1990) – fairly upped the ante with its deftly coordinated rhythmic and harmonic changes. NYJO’s energetic conductor Mark Armstrong then took up his trumpet for the soulful solos in his arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s timeless ‘Round Midnight (c.1944), which yet missed out on the original tune’s sombre emotion, before the bluesy panache of Jerome Richardson’s The Groove Merchant (1967) – heard in Tad Jones’s 1969 big-band version – restored something akin to normal service with its soloing for brass.
An NYJO policy of long-standing has been the active involvement of its members in composing and arranging – a tradition that continued here with The Change (2011), baritone-sax Chris Whiter’s evolutionary concept on the transformation from rainforest to city with its evocative solos and distinctive take on minimalist rhythmic gestures; followed by Return Flight (2010), sax-player Tom Stone’s depiction of an air-flight being disrupted by Icelandic volcano activity with its evocative widescreen aura and limpid sax dialogues, then trombonist Callum Au’s energetic take on Juan Tizol’s Caravan (1936 – given in a different guise by Julian Joseph’s All-Star Big-Band at a late-night Prom in 1995) in which an agile percussive continuum provided the rhythmic bedrock for some splenetic soloing. An interlude of relative calm next for ‘Sunset and the Mockingbird’ – the understated opening number in Ellington’s The Queen’s Suite (1959), and a (surprisingly?) sultry royal tribute that rightly brought Whiter’s warmly expressive baritone sax artistry to the fore.
Tim Garland had been commissioned to provide a suitable climax to the programme, and his Agro Alegría (2012) did not disappoint with its plangent slow introduction leading into an effervescent take on the flamenco dance in question – the proliferating solos, not least those from the composer on tenor then alto sax, and unstoppable rhythmic drive being held in check while propelled along by the incisive drumming of Mark Mondesir. A seismic end to a programme whose only notable fault was a desire to cram too many solo turns into certain numbers and which, as an encore, gave NYJO vocalist Emma Smith a welcome chance in the spotlight with her sensuous interpretation of Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse’s plaintive Feeling Good (as covered by, among others, Nina Simone and Michael Bublé).