The Spirit of Django [London premiere]
Martin Taylor (guitar)
Spirit of Django [Alan Barnes (clarinet & soprano saxophone), Karen Street (accordion), Mitch Dalton (rhythm guitar) and James Taylor (snare drum)]
Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 31 August, 2012
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The Proms has given rise to a fair number of jazz (or jazz-related) concerts during recent years. Only two weeks ago the National Youth Jazz Orchestra presented an impressive showcase, and this recital brought together the complementary composing talents of guitarist Martin Taylor and (in two of his numerous guises) conductor and arranger Guy Barker in a concept that was ideally suited to the format and ambience of a late-night Prom. The Spirit of Django (2010) pays more than just homage to the Belgian-Romany guitarist, Django Reinhardt, its six movements (lasting around nine minutes each) taking in various and often disparate-seeming aspects of his protean creativity in an orchestral suite as cohesive as it is all-encompassing.
Although nominally Barker’s orchestral expansion of six melodies as conceived for guitar by Taylor, the present work is nothing if not integrated stylistically. Thus ‘Last Train to Hauteville’ opens with a cinematic prelude before heading into a breezy though by no means invariably high-speed workout, while ‘Le jardin anglais’ takes the eponymous garden in the Breton town of Dinan as inspiration for an Anglo-French waltz (Taylor’s own description) whose suavity is not without its bittersweet undertones. After which, the character of ‘Roberta’ is one of heartfelt generosity towards a neighbour whose friendship inspired one of Taylor’s most winsome tunes, cushioned but never submerged in Barker’s lush orchestration.
An abrupt change of mood for ‘Monsieur Jacques’, inspired by another of Taylor’s neighbours whose comical awkwardness on a unicycle brought to mind the capers of Jacques Tati and which throws in a Tom & Jerry allusion for good measure. Very different is ‘The Fair-Haired Child’, an evocation of loss and love whose personal connotation has been distilled into an eloquent depiction of remembrance, and whose restrained intensity does not pre-empt ‘Django bop’ with its interplay of whole-tone scales and the bebop that fascinated Reinhardt in his final years; heading to an expansive climax that then makes way for brief cadenzas from guitar, clarinet and accordion before the decisive orchestral pay-off.
Throughout the performance, the combined talents of Taylor and the Spirit of Django quartet were productively fused with the strings and wind of the Britten Sinfonia and brass and reeds of the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra in a multivalent soundworld that, if it just occasionally made the soloists seem like extras on their own set, had an intricacy of detail and immediacy of impact that absorbed and entertained in equal measure. Barker guided matters with his customary flair and authority, while he obliged with a well-chosen encore in the guise of Nuages: one of Reinhardt’s most indelible tunes, given in a rich and sensitive arrangement that set the seal on a near-flawless hour of music-making.