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The Walsall Jazz Orchestra marks its twenty–fifth anniversary with Devil in the Detail, an impressive tour de force for founder / director John Hughes’ award–winning ensemble from the UK’s West Midlands. WJO, which began life in 1975 as the Walsall Youth Jazz Orchestra, has come a long way since then, performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Royal Festival Hall, Birmingham Arts Festival and Ronnie Scott’s fabled London nightclub while winning BBC Radio 2’s big–band competition and producing a well–received debut album, Watershed. The orchestra is in near–perfect form on its latest release, which opens and closes with handsome new works by WJO pianist Tim Amann that encircle the standard “The Nearness of You” and splendid original compositions by Mike Gibbs, Pat Metheny, Dave Blackmore and Dave Johnson. Few big–band albums begin as quietly as this one, but the ensemble has things under control and soon works up an impressive head of steam on Amann’s “The Devil Was in the Detail,” which builds nicely behind crisp solos by guitarist Rik Sandford, tenor Sam Rogers, soprano Anna Brooks and trumpeter Paul Bennett. Tenor Andy Sapic is featured on Gibbs’ chorale–based “Coincidence,” Rogers on “Nearness.” Metheny’s perky “Better Days Ahead” is a charmer, with charming solos to match by Amann on Fender Rhodes and bassist Adam Gilchrist. Amann, Sandford and Rogers return to help upraise Blackmore’s graceful “Birds in Flight,” after which Sandford and Sapic get down on Johnson’s aptly named “Funktional.” Amann’s “No One Else” isn’t your typical flag–waving finale but there’s surprising fire in its laid–back rhythms and in heated passages by Bennett, altos Brooks and Tildi Horton, Rogers and trombonist Helen Miller. What is most striking about WJO is the apparent ease with which these young musicians dismantle any chart, no matter how formidable. On Devil in the Detail, it seems that no detail has been undervalued or overlooked. A devilishly beguiling album by a world–class Jazz ensemble.
Contact:WJO, 36 Jesson Road, Walsall, West Midlands WS1 3AS, United Kingdom. Phone 01922 635262. Web site, www.ostrichmusic.fsnet.co.uk; e–mail email@example.com. co.
Track Listing: The Devil Was in the Detail; Coincidence; The Nearness of You; Better Days Ahead; Birds in Flight; Funktional; Nothing and No One Else (47:33).
Personnel: John Hughes, music director; Paul Bennett, Karen Blakemore, Kevin Johnson, Henzie Miller, trumpet; Anna Brooks, alto, soprano sax; Tildi Horton, alto sax; Sam Rogers, Andreja Sapic, tenor sax; Penny Hughes, baritone sax; Sue Hughes, Helen Miller, Tom Walter, Paul Slater, trombone; Tim Amann, piano, keyboards; Rik Sandford, guitar; Adam Gilchrist, bass; Carl Hemmingsley, drums.