National Youth Jazz Orchestra: Two Suites by Paul Hart
Two Suites by Paul Hart
Two Suites represents a change of pace for Great Britain's splendid National Youth Jazz Orchestra, which has confined its previous albums for the most part to shorter original compositions by a variety of writers with a sprinkling of themes from the Great American Songbook. But as none other than John Dankworth writes in the liner notes, "If Paul Hart is not a genius, he is the nearest thing to it that I have come across. After listening to Hart's Out of Hamelin and Theme and Deviations, one is loath to argue the point.
The first of these suites, the four-movement Hamelin, based on the well-known tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, is also the most recent, having been commissioned by the BBC for the Millennium Prom in 2000. The other, Deviations, dates from 1983-86 and is patterned after Beethoven's "Für Elise. As, according to Bill Ashton's notes, Beethoven's manuscript was misread and "Elise was actually Therèse Malfatti, the sixteen-year-old niece of the composer's physician, the suite's seven movements center around the idea of duality: either two solo instruments, two tempos or two bands, representing the conflict between Elise, a German Protestant, and Therèse, an Italian Roman Catholic, which achieves its resolution in the movements "Miss Malfatti, I Presume and "Elise Got Rhythm.
As one would expect, the flute is the centerpiece on Hamelin, with the masterful Gareth Lockrane introducing the melody on the first and fourth movements ("An Army Mutters, "Paying the Piper") and soloing astutely with trombonists Mike Feltham and David Williamson ("Army ), trumpeters Joe Auckland and Craig Wild, drummer Darrren Williams, altos Sam Mayne and Simon Meredith ("Piper ), baritone Claire McInerney and tenors Josephine Davies and Osian Roberts ("No Evil Star ). Flugel Henry Collins, guitarist Adam Goldsmith and pianist Steve Holness carry the load on the graceful "Three Notes on the Enraptured Air. Even though the suite it thematic, it has been wonderfully written by Hart, with many breathtaking passages for the ensemble, and is marvelously performed by NYJO.
The same can be said of Deviations, a seven-part tour de force for orchestra and soloists that tests NYJO's acumen to the limit and does not find it wanting. Two of the movements, "Elise's Dream and "Blüs für Elise, recorded in 1986 (three years after the others), showcase then-fourteen-year-old alto saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock, who has since gone on to make a wider mark in British Jazz. Other soloists aren't as clear-cut as on Hamelin but include tenors Paul Weimar (the groovy "Elise or Else, boisterous "Double Booked, exuberant "Elise Got Rhythm ) and Dave Bishop ("Rhythm, "I Feel Sure ), soprano Jamie Talbot ("Sure ), flugel Paul Higgs (the charming "Miss Malfatti, I Presume ) and trumpeter Steve Sidwell (trading with an unnamed section-mate, perhaps Higgs, on "Rhythm ). The agile trombone soloist on "Blüs could be Mark Nightingale.
Simply having this music to enjoy again is a triumph in itself, as the original Ampex tapes were lost for a time and, when recovered, had to be baked in a slow oven for a few days, among other things, before they could be transferred to a digital master. The result, as you'll hear, is truly extraordinary, as are Hart's bright and swinging charts. Beethoven, a connoisseur of well-written music, would have been immensely pleased. Any way you slice it, this is delectable big-band cuisine, and one needn't have a suite tooth to appreciate it. NYJO never fails to please, and Hart's imaginative essays deserve to be heard. He and NYJO comprise an emphatically brilliant team.
Tracks: Out of Hamelin: An Army Mutters; No Evil Star; Three Notes on the Enraptured Air; Paying the Piper. Theme and Deviations: Elise or Else; Elise's Dream; I Feel Sure; Double Booked in the Park; Miss Malfatti, I Presume; Elise Got Rhythm; Blüs für Elise (72:13).
Personnel: Bill Ashton: director. Tracks 1-4: Sam Mayne, Simon Meredith, Josephine Davies, Osian Roberts, Claire McInerney: reeds; Gareth Lockrane: flute; Craig Wild, Andy Greenwood, Tom Rees-Roberts, Joe Auckland, Henry Collins: trumpet; Trevor Mires, Mike Feltham, Alistair White, Dave Williams, Lewis Edney: trombone; Kerin Black, Gwilym Simcock: horn; Steve Holness: piano; Adam Goldsmith: guitar; Dave Foster: bass; Darren Williams: drums; Martin Briggs: percussion. Tracks 5,7-10: Jamie Talbot, Dave Bishop, Clifford Tracey, Paul Weimar, Simon Currie: reeds; Richard Symons: flute; Paul Spong, Mike O'Gorman, Simon Gardner, Steve Sidwell, Mark Chandler, Paul Higgs: trumpet; Neil Sidwell, Fayyaz Virji, Ralph Pearson, Nigel Barr, Nick Gallant, Don Lucas: trombone; Jane Hanna: horn; Andy Vinter, Dave Arch: piano; Chris Watson: guitar; Dave Hage: bass; Mike Smith: drums; Hazel Peat: percussion. Tracks 6, 11: Nigel Hitchcock, Cliff Tracey, Clive Hitchcock, Dave O'Higgins, Simon Currie: reeds; Richard Symons, Julie Davis: flute; Steve Sidwell, Paul Higgs, Mike O'Gorman, Andy Gibson, Guy Barker: trumpet; Fayyaz Virji, Mark Nightingale, Colin Hill, Adrian Lane, Steve Aitken: trombone; Liz Price: horn; John RGW Smith: piano; Chris Watson: guitar; Dave Hage: bass; Mike Smith: drums; Mike Bradley, Ian Thomas: percussion.