There are at least four aspects of any new album by Great Britain’s superlative National Youth Jazz Orchestra that any prospective listener can be sure of without even opening the package: (1) it will be marvelously performed; (2) it will be immaculately recorded; (3) it will be generously timed; and (4) it will embody some of the most wonderfully written and harmoniously spectacular big-band arrangements one can envision.
Jasmine, the twenty-first NYJO album in this reviewer’s library, is certainly no exception. The orchestra’s latest enterprise stands apart from the others, however, in that it encompasses four disparate recording sessions and bears not one but three dedications two of them to greatly-loved and dearly-missed friends, the other to a country, Cyprus. The fallen comrades are Nicolas Economou, a gifted Cypriot musician who was killed in an auto accident in 1993, and flautist Richard Symons who joined NYJO in 1981 and, like Economou, died prematurely at age 41. The third dedicatee, the island of Cyprus, was singled out for its warmth and hospitality during NYJO’s visit there in June 2001, an open-handed exuberance that so greatly impressed director Bill Ashton and his young apprentices that it simply had to be repaid.
The album opens, appropriately enough, with “Jasmine,” among the most popular of Greek Cypriot traditional melodies, grandly arranged by Mark Armstrong and featuring Sam Mayne’s soprano saxophone. A second Greek Cypriot folk tune, “The Admiral,” arranged Greco / Jazz style by pianist Gwilym Simcock (who doubles on French horn!), follows Paul Hart’s multihued “Remembrance for Jim” and the first of two tantalizing vocals by Annabel Williams, on Ashton’s dreamy love song, “Thought I’d Ask.” Pianist Steve Holness and flautist Gareth Lockrane are showcased on “The Admiral,” as they are on “Remembrance for Jim.” Williams, the latest in a seemingly endless line of splendid vocalists to gleam in NYJO’s orbit, returns to sing Ashton / Dick Walter’s breezy “Over & Over Again” but is upstaged a bit on that one by the orchestra’s nimble- fingered saxophone section. So far Jasmine is thoroughly enchanting, and we’re only halfway to the finish line!
The second half opens in a similarly impressive manner with trumpeter Robbie Robson’s billowing “Ondas” (Portuguese / Spanish for “Waves”), on which his glossy flugel shares solo honors with guitarist Adam Goldsmith and tenor Mark Hanslip. Speaking of tenors, Simon Willescroft is outstanding on Steve Tichener’s graceful “Carin’s Song,” which precedes Dave Arch’s salsa- smothered tour de force, “Salmagundi” (solos by Lockrane, trumpeter Ian Wood, flugel Henry Collins, tenor Josephine Davies and drummer Darren Williams).
Before presenting the elegiac “Remembrance for Richard,” also written by Paul Hart and featuring Lockrane’s piccolo with Holness and Davies, Ashton combed NYJO’s vaults and unearthed the perfect introductory piece, Chris Smith’s “A Touch of Canda,” a sumptuous vehicle for the late Richard Symons’ flute that was recorded in 1987 but never released. It’s a classy touch, one that shows how much the Jazz world lost when Symons passed away and leads us perfectly into “Remembrance.”
As is the case whenever listening to NYJO, I find it hard to believe that many of these stellar musicians are teenagers (the orchestra’s unmovable upper age limit is twenty-five). They ennoble themselves on Jasmine, as they (and their predecessors) have done on every album the orchestra has ever produced. Should that fabled “desert island” ever materialize, I’d be more than happy to have any or all of them within arm’s reach to keep me company.
Contact: NYJO — Stanza Music, 11 Victor Road, Harrow HA2 6PT, United Kingdom; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: Jasmine; Remembrance for Jim; Thought I
Personnel: Bill Ashton, director. Tracks 1, 3-7 -- Sam Mayne, Phil Knights, Josephine Davies, Mark
Hanslip, Tom Richards, Dean Nixon, Simon Willescroft, reeds; Gareth Lockrane, Rupert Widdows,
flute; Martin Gladdish, Bob Dowell, Chris Webster, Mick Marshall, Lewis Edney, trombone; Gwilym
Simcock, horn; Craig Wild, Andy Greenwood, Tom Rees-Roberts, Robbie Robson, Joe Auckland,
Percy Pursglove, Johanna Wright, trumpet; Steve Holness, piano; Adam Goldsmith, guitar; Dave
Foster, bass; Darren Williams, drums; Hugh Wilkinson, Chris Marshall, percussion; Annabel
Williams, vocals. Track 2 -- Phil Knights, Simon Meredith, Josephine Davies, Osian Roberts,
Claire McInerney, reeds; Gareth Lockrane, flute; Martin Gladdish, Katy Pryce, James Adams, Chris
Webster, Lewis Edney, trombone; Gwilym Simcock, horn; Andrew Pursglove, Andy Greenwood,
Tom Rees-Roberts, Joe Auckland, Henry Collins, trumpet; Steve Holness, piano; Adam Goldsmith,
guitar; Dave Foster, bass; Darren Williams, drums; Hugh Wilkinson, Angela Tunnicliffe, percussion.
Track 8 -- Sam Mayne, Simon Meredith, Josephine Davies, Ollie Weston, Phil Knights, reeds;
Gareth Lockrane, flute; Mike Feltham, Martin Gladdish, James Adams, Bob Dowell, Ben Bouzan,
trombone; Kerin Black, horn; Nathan Bray, Ian Wood, Henry Collins, Tom Rees-Roberts, Tim
Jackson, trumpet; Steve Holness, piano; Adam Goldsmith, guitar; Dave Foster, bass; Darren
Williams, drums; Corinna Silvester, percussion. Track 9 -- Nigel Hitchcock, Andy Panayi,
Clive Hitchcock, Adam Talbot, Scott Garland, Sarah Garbe, Pete Long, reeds; Richard Symons,
flute; Mark Nightingale, Colin Hill, Mark Bassey, Andy Hutchinson, Tibor Hartman, trombone; Justin
Mansell-Short, horn; Noel Langley, Lance Kelly, Richard Sidwell, Gerard Presencer, Paul Edmonds,
trumpet; John R.W.G. Smith, piano; Mike Eaves, guitar; Phil Mulford, bass; Mike Smith, drums; Keith
Fairbairn, Andy Gleadhill, percussion.