After listening to several selections on Beyond the Limit, the Aylesbury Music Centre’s fourth recording (and second on disc), then glancing at the sleevenote, my first thought was that the information therein must have been misprinted — it says the average age of AMC band–members on Limit is sixteen! Oh come on, do you really expect anyone to believe that 16–year–olds can play big–band Jazz as flawlessly as this? What’s next, diaper changes between the chorus and bridge? I’ve heard Bob Florence’s world–class ensemble play his subtle “Carmelo’s by the Freeway,” and believe me, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Florence’s studio recording and the superb AMC version presented here. These kids — for that is what they are — must have been given reeds, mouthpieces or drum sticks to play with in their cribs! How music director Nick Care has brought them to this point so quickly is beyond me, but I’m so thankful that he and his colleagues at the AMC have. Age (or lack of it) aside, this is by any measure one butt–kicking big band. I listened closely to “Carmelo’s” a second time to make sure my ears weren’t deceiving me. They weren’t. The ensemble is tight as a sailor’s knot, and the solos by guitarist Matt Calvert and pianist Ian Partridge are well above what one might expect from players so young. But why dwell on only one selection when everything on offer is so fabulous including scintillating original works by Mark Armstrong (the picturesque “Life’s Suite” in three movements), Martin Williams (“La Muchacha de Colombia”), John Eacott (“Log”) and the AMC’s excellent trumpet / flugel soloist, Juls Buckley (“Intensive Blue”). Florence is represented again by the knotty fugue “Misbehavin’” and Bob Mintzer by the lyrically charming “Beyond the Limit” (which showcases Paul Brimicombe’s deep–throated bass clarinet), while Buckley and Care collaborated with three others to write the rhythmically intense “Balim.” The ensemble provides unflagging support for the stately American vocalist Salena Jones on three numbers, Alan O’Day’s “Do Me Wrong, But Do Me” and the standards “My Romance” and “Here’s That Rainy Day.” And if anyone doubts that musicians this young can swing as hard or as often as their older and more seasoned counterparts, even the most cursory run–through will quickly erase any such misgivings. How do they do it? Don’t ask me. Perhaps it’s because AMC starts them young and carefully nurtures them through its 35 ensembles until they are ready to “retire” (that is, move on to pursue their college education or even become professional musicians). In any event, the proof is in the listening, and the AMC ensemble never dips below extraordinary, even making the hackneyed theme from The Naked Gun sound fresh and exhilarating (while offering a graceful muted trumpet solo by the appropriately named Steve Pretty). The ensemble wraps things up with Eacott’s Latinized flag–waver, “Log,” whose brassy shout–choruses place an assertive exclamation mark on a truly remarkable session. If there’s any cause for complaint, it is that AMC labels the ensemble a “dance band,” as it is so much more than that. Don’t be misled by the name; this is a rompin’, stompin’, consistently swingin’ big band that can stand its ground in any company. On a scale of one to ten, easily a twelve.
Track listing: Do Me Wrong, But Do Me; Carmelo’s by the Freeway; Life’s Suite (Clear Blue Water, Echoes Runes and Ciphers, Composite Motion); Here’s That Rainy Day; Misbehavin’; Beyond the Limit; La Muchacha de Colombia; My Romance; Intensive Blue; Balim; Theme from The Naked Gun; Log (67:19).
Nick Care, music director; Paul Brimicombe, alto, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Mich Toler, alto sax; Sarah Hutchings, alto, baritone sax; Simon Balderson, Adrian Cogger, tenor sax; Jenny Hird, baritone sax; Jane Mitchell, flute, alto flute; Gemma Read, alto flute; Rob Hamilton, Juls Buckley, Andy Ferris, Steve Pretty, Toby Capell, Adam Pleeth, Jan Marchant, trumpet, flugelhorn; Matt Taylor, Duncan Hamilton, William Glover, Andrew Shilton, trombone; Toby Whiffin, bass trombone; Ian Partridge, piano; Matt Calvert, guitar; John Calvert, bass; Paul Toler, drums; Juls Buckley, Steve Michell, Gemma Read, percussion; Buckley, Michell, Read, Duncan Hamilton, Adam Pleeth, Steve Pretty, percussion (