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The Ian Pearce Big Band: Dedication

Jack Bowers By

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Most American jazz enthusiasts, if pressed to name a world-class British big band, would likely invoke the hallowed name of Ted Heath. Ask them to name another and you'd probably draw a blank stare. If, however, anyone were to answer with the name Ian Pearce, you'd have to jury-rig a fanfare and award him or her a gold star and high marks for having done their homework. Pearce's ensemble may not have Heath's star power, but it does have staying power: the band has been together for 27 years and shows no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, it keeps getting better, as Dedication, recorded last November, clearly shows.

The album's name was easy to conceive, as the entire venture is dedicated to Dave Plews, the band's lead trumpeter until his untimely passing in 2000, and there are a number of other warmhearted salutes—two ("On Mayne Street, "Sam's Song ) to current lead alto Sam Mayne, one each to former lead altos Jamie Talbot ("All About Jamie ) and the late Joan Cunningham ("Cunningham's Way ), others to Pearce's late wife, Brad ("The Spirit Is Free ), Thad Jones/Mel Lewis ("For Thad and Mel, naturally) and Miles Davis/W.C. Handy ("All Blues/St. Louis Blues ). Besides playing piano and leading the band, Pearce arranged everything and wrote all save the "Blues medley. A busy man indeed.

Pearce's charts are fun to hear and must be fun to play as well. Everything swings nicely, and the ensemble is earnestly on its collective toes, breathing energy and ardor into every one of Pearce's enchanting melodies. Besides those already mentioned, they include the winsome "Wailing on the Blues, softly nuanced "Nirvana, torrid "Two-Part Invention, sensuous "Stay with Me Tonight and vehement "Vertigo. Mayne is showcased on alto ("Mayne Street ) and soprano ("Sam's Song ), Talbot on "All About Jamie, alto Colin Skinner on "Nirvana, drummer Ian Thomas on "Vertigo," Henry Collins on "Cunningham's Way (trumpet) and "Stay with Me Tonight (flugel). There are other superb solos courtesy of alto Mick Foster and tenors Josephine Davies, Lauren Hignall and Sam Bullard.

Like all successful bandleaders, Pearce is careful to surround himself with the best musicians he can find. On Dedication, I counted at least ten talented alumni from Great Britain's unrivaled National Youth Jazz Orchestra (there may be more), thus resolving any concerns about quality control. The rest is up to Pearce, and he has come through (again) with flying colors, producing an album that is stylish and entertaining from end to end. If you're ready to venture beyond Ted Heath, lend an ear to Ian Pearce's enterprising ensemble. I've no doubt you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Track Listing: Wailing on the Blues; The Spirit Is Free; Nirvana (Bliss); All Blues / St. Louis Blues; On Mayne Street; Cunningham

Personnel: Ian Pearce: leader, composer, arranger, piano; Simon Gardiner, Stuart Brooks, Andy Gray, Henry Collins, John Paul, Ben Godfrey: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jamie Talbot, Colin Skinner, Sam Mayne, Mick Foster, Lauren Hignall, Josephine Davies, Sam Bullard, Jon Halton, Dean Nixon: reeds; Cliff Hardie, Martin Gladdish, Neil Sidwell, Simon Tate, Paul Wright, Chris Fowler: trombone; Steve Pearce: bass; Ian Thomas: drums.

Title: Dedication | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Big Musik


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