While almost every sensible thought screams "Don't Do It!" for good economic and logistical reasons, there are still plenty of jazz musicians for whom the big band is an idealand an attainable one at that. Manchester's Beats & Pieces Big Band is a fine examplethe name may or may not be a nod to Manchester's '60s popsters the Dave Clark Five, but the music is firmly descended from the big bands that came before. A large ensemble that's been together since 2008, debut album Big Ideas
(Efpi records, 2012) was a bold first step. Album two, All In
, moves things along nicely to reveal a band brimming with confidence.
Most of the band members from Big Ideas
remain, including all of the rhythm section. The seven tracks highlight the band's energy, enthusiasm and versatility. Conductor/Director Ben Cottrell
arranged all of the tunes and wrote all but one of them.
"Rocky" opens proceedings with all guns blazinga shout of "Alright!" and they're off, every one of the 14 musicians seemingly fighting for dominance before order is achieved and Finlay Panter
's drums establish a rock-y beat. The drummer also sets the tempo from note one of "Pop," his urgent drive moving the tune at a fast pace. Nick Walters
' muted trumpet solo is rather low in the mix but his clear tone cuts through.
"Rain" is altogether calmer: opening with Patrick Hurley's repetitive Rhodes phrase and building gradually to the full ensemble. "Havmann" initially extends this air of calm, building even more slowly then releasing tension to give Harrison Wood's bass primacy before Graham South
's flugelhorn solo. The tune closes with another full-on show of powerful playing.
Wood opens "Hendo" on electric bass, soon joined by Panter's four/four drumbeat. There's a spot of disco guitar from Anton Hunter
, some horn section riffing, Sam Healey
's fluid soprano sax solo, Panter's drumming becomes ever-more complex and imaginativeit's the tune that most justifies the album's title.
The single cover tune on All In
is David Bowie's "Let's Dance," which Cottrell gives a radical makeover. This is a slo-o-ow burner: beginning at almost glacial speed (no chance of shaking a booty, it's probably frozen) it retains its laid-back feel until the final two minutes, when the band breaks loose once again and returns to the energy and groove of "Rocky" before the final few seconds of dub-style horns. All In
closes with "Fairytale." The tune draws on the mournful, elegiac, side of the English brass band tradition: South is responsible for the lovely trumpet solo that captures the beauty of Cottrell's melody.
Ben Cottrell: director; Anthony Brown: saxophone; Sam Healey: saxophone; Ben Watte: saxophone; Owen Bryce: trumpet; Graham South: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Walters: trumpet; Ed Horsey: trombone; Simon Lodge: trombone; Rich McVeigh: trombone; Anton Hunter: guitar; Patrick Hurley: piano, Rhodes; Harrison Wood: bass; Finlay Panter: drums.