The work of the late George Shearing, or Sir George Shearing OBE to give him his full title, is the subject of the debut album from Shear Brass, a band dedicated to playing new arrangements of his music. They are led by Shearing's great nephew, drummer Carl Gorham. The album, Celebrating Sir George Shearing, features eleven tracks, five of which feature vocals. All of the inventive arrangements, by the trumpeter Jason McDermid, have a level of detail usually reserved for far smaller groups.
Whether as a jazz musician or a composer, Shearing is one of the greatest that the UK has produced. For some reason he seems to have been often overlooked or taken for granted in recent years. Blind from birth, his musical achievements are astonishing. His early career found him playing in various band formats with such prominent names as Harry Hayes and Claude Bampton. In 1947, he became one of the first post-war British jazz musicians to move to the US and prove that success was possible, opening the door for many more to follow in his wake.
In just a few years, he had formed a quintet (piano, bass, drums, guitar and vibraphone) showcasing his locked-hands piano technique and enjoyed enormous commercial success with his "Shearing sound." This led to collaborations with artists of the stature of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and a partnership with Mel Torme. His best known song is the jazz classic, "Lullaby of Birdland" (1952). He appeared in the film Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959) and went on to enjoy decades of success.
The album opens with "Conception," one of Shearing's best known tunes dating from his quintet's earliest recordings. The big band swing is immediately apparent as is the clever arrangement that gives soloists a brief moment in the spotlight. The following "Let's Live Again" has a relaxed swing with neatly judged vocals from Moule and fluent piano from Wallace. She is again on top form on "Midnight Mood," where Gorham adds lyrics to his great uncle's tune. Another tune from Shearing's early career is "The Fourth Deuce." This is effectively brought up to date with Storr's trumpet and Long's tenor both prominent. Gorham and Singh enliven the lively Latin rhythms of "From Rags to Richard" as the horns build and sway.
Elsewhere, Kerr's vibraphone together with Pearson's rendering of Shearing's piano style can be heard on "Night Flight." Vocalist Louise Marshall brings her delightful phrasing to a winning version of "Let There Be Love," a track Shearing worked on with Nat King Cole. She also brings her vocal style to Gorham's lyrics on "Easy." The remaining vocal track is "Lullaby of Birdland," Sipek's smooth voice perfect for this satisfying arrangement as McDermid, Long and Pearson provide effortless swing. The Latin "Rondo" rounds off the album with Singh, Somogyi and White making notable contributions.
Harvesting key moments to show the depth of Shearing's writing, Shear Brass are clearly on a mission and completely achieve their aim with this album. Shearing's originals are made crisp and contemporary with swinging brass arrangements from McDermid, creative anchoring from Dankworth, Somogyi and Gorham and terrific cameos from the rest of the band. Fast moving and packed with creative ideas, this is a fitting tribute to the career of an exceptional musician.
Conception; Let's Live Again; From Rags to Richards; Let There Be Love; The Fourth Deuce; Easy; Night Flight; Lullaby of Birdland; Children's Waltz; Midnight Mood; Rondo.
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