The idea of the gang is well established in rock bandsthink of the wonderful Astrid Kirchherr photos of the Beatles in their Hamburg-era leathers, the Specials glowering from the cover of their classic debut LP or the Clash in pretty much any picture ever taken of them. Rock bands often foster this "us v's them" mentality as a shorthand for identification with their audience or a set of beliefs, but it is a position that only translates imperfectly into jazz where the emphasis tends to be on the celebration of individual brilliance within that collective. Both approaches have produced fine music of course but the idea of a collective whose unity of purpose, ethos or ideology results in something greater than the sum of the individual parts remains rare in jazz.
A small step towards redressing that balance within jazz might just come from this fabulous collection from the Manchester based Beats and Pieces Big Band. Led, or rather directed, by Ben Cottrell
the basic impetus was to translate the sort of presence and jazz sophistication that the likes of Acoustic Ladyland
brought to indie rock into a big band context. Cottrell has said that ..."if you just go for it and have nine horns just belting it, it would get that same kind of effect that a five- piece rock band can do, but just better." It takes a matter of seconds for proof that this theory works the exclamation of "Alright!" and three brisk cymbal interjections that start opener "Rocky" feel like the aural equivalent of the wonderful simplicity of the sleeve, where five hands reach together like a sports team at the conclusion of a motivational team talk. The energy explodes out of the piece, grabbing the attention in an impossible to resist call to arms, like the over exuberant, possibly drunken, friend that drags you out onto the dancefloor leaving you no choice but to go with it. And go with it you should, although readers with chronic medical conditions are strongly advised to ensure that all appropriate supports, bandages and medications have been deployed before pressing play.
There is no let-up in the momentum on the second track "Pop" which neatly segues in on a syncopated beat, interspersing softer passages of instrumentation between the choruses and featuring a great descending horn line. The wonderful Reich-ian circular riff that runs through "Rain" in various forms is also worthy of praise as is the funk guitar on "Hendo." Elsewhere the mood is a little more mutedtake the surprisingly successful cover of Bowie's "Let's Dance" giving the song an end of the night feel, that seems to draw inspiration from the poignant simplicity of Bowie's lyric rather than the enormous Chic bass line that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards added to the original. There is also the unexpected eerie, filmic "Havmann" deliberately placed at the centre of the collection to show that, when the piece requires it, the band is more than capable of a broad range of styles.
To do this music so well you need to be tight as a band and, in all likelihood, close personally. The logistics alone of getting 14 or so musicians to schedule gigs or sessions would, I suspect, defeat most of us and demand at very least a strong collective spirit and willingness to collaborate from participants. That Cottrell has managed to foster this and direct an album so fizzing with energy and rhythm, shows that the band must surely share a lot in terms of dedication to the project and a shared musical outlook more generally. The result is not quite 'Beats and Pieces v's the World' but it has made for one special album that is unreservedly recommended.