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There was a time when producing a big–band album required such preliminary steps as actually hiring a band. That’s no longer the case, as saxophonist Simon Currie proves on his debut album, Monochrome to Colour. Currie has employed a number of capable sidemen and women — I count at least fourteen — but not all of them play on any one track, and the “big bands” heard on four selections are in fact smaller groups — of no more than seven to ten — enlarged by overdubbing. How does the stratagem work? Quite well. In other words, Currie’s ensembles sound much like ordinary big bands, which is the whole point. John Scott is the “trumpet section” on “Scottie’s Bop” and “Love for Sale,” and he and Andy Townsend share the honors on “Dingle Starry” and “Colours.” Currie, meanwhile, plays every reed from soprano to baritone, mans the keyboard on “Scottie’s Bop,” “Simon’s Roast” and “Who’s Afraid,” and plays flute on “Love for Sale.” Rounding out the “sax section” is Tom Richards on alto and / or tenor. Interestingly, there are three bona fide trombonists (Jerry Price, Andy Currie, Pete North) on each of the “big–band” numbers. Currie, who arranged every ensemble number except Will Bartlett’s “Dingle Starry” and wrote everything else except, of course, Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone,” interlaces them with four extemporaneous “Impressions” (The Blues, That Minor Riff, Romance, Latin Groove) that pair his throaty baritone sax with Grif Johnson’s responsive piano. Currie uses a “string section” (Mariette Pringle on violins / violas, cellist Valerie Findlay) on “Dorothy Ann,” a rock–style rhythm section (drummer Brian Greene, bassist Phil Benny, guitarist Pete Callard) to underscore his tenor sax on “Who’s Afraid.” If it’s beginning to sound as though he’s tossing in almost everything short of the kitchen sink, that’s not far from true. But in trying to design something to please everyone, Currie has discarded the thread of continuity that could have made a respectable album even stronger. It would have been good, for example, to hear the “big bands” perform on every track. But perhaps he’s saving that for the sequel. Currie is a bright and versatile post–bop saxophonist and a promising composer / arranger to boot (“Scottie’s Bop,” “Simon’s Roast” and “Colours” are especially engaging). Based on the evidence set forth in Monochrome to Colour, we should be hearing much more from him in the years to come.
Contact:Simon Currie Jazz Bands, The Little House, Chapel Lane, Curridge, N. Thatcham, Berkshire RG18 9DX, United Kingdom. Web site, www.simoncurrie.co.uk; e–mail
Track Listing: Scottie
Personnel: Simon Currie, leader, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone sax, keyboards; John Scott, trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Townsend, trumpet; Jerry Price, Andy Currie, Pete North, trombone; Tom Richards, alto, tenor sax; Pete Callard, Edie Masson, guitar; Grif Johnson, piano; Phil Berry, Tim Dawes, bass; Brian Greene, drums; Mariette Pringle, violin, viola; Valerie Findlay, cello.