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For those who are unfamiliar with the Doncaster Jazz Orchestra, it’s another of those outrageously accomplished ensembles from Great Britain composed primarily of teen-agers with a handful of twenty-somethings inflating the roster. My initial response to the DJO’s third and most recent album was the same as always—there’s no way in the world musicians that young can possibly play as well as they do!
But there‘s the evidence, staring me right in the face—or rather, the ears. Mystified, I listen again, more closely this time, foraging for clues that may define the DJO as a “youth” orchestra. But hard as I try, there simply aren‘t any. Perhaps that’s why the qualifier isn’t used, even though the orchestra is a part of and sponsored by the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association.
Truth be told, the DJO does have some outside help—not that it needs any—on Discover the Spirit. As the album marks the orchestra’s thirtieth anniversary, music director John Ellis has recruited as guest artists half a dozen DJO alumni who are now among the leading lights in British Jazz and showcased one or more of them on six of the album’s eleven selections. The orchestra, in turn, has dedicated the recording to Ellis for his inspiring and untiring leadership during those three decades.
That brings us to the music, which can best be described as breathtaking, from Gordon Goodwin’s lively “Count Bubba” to the spine-tingling suite from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story headlining DJO alums Pete Beachill on trombone and “energizer bunny” Ian West on drums. Other grads in the spotlight include trombonist Dennis Rollins and pianist Andy Vinter (“Count Bubba”), Beachill and Vinter (the lovely standard “This Is Always,” played as a samba), flugel Mark White (Bob Florence’s graceful “Silky”), Vinter and the DJO’s superb tenor soloist, Oriol Singhji (Matt Catingub’s elegant “Salute to Elvis Costello”), Beachill with Singhji, trombonist Stuart Garside and trumpeter Tom Ashe (Tom Dossett’s groovy “Never-Ending Ending Blues”).
When the senior role models aren’t on center stage, the DJO unsheathes a number of its own rapier-like improvisers including alto Mark Ellis (Sammy Nestico’s “Lonely Street”), guitarist Manolo Polidario (Anthony Adams’s “Almost There”) and baritone Dean Nixon (the Gershwins’ “Our Love Is Here to Stay”). But if one wants a concise lesson in what big-band Jazz is all about, he or she need venture no further than Track 2, wherein John Escreet’s tasteful piano introduces Tom Kubis’s incredibly beautiful arrangement of Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley’s “Who Can I Turn To?” (agile solos courtesy of tenors Singhji and Ben Mallinder). A treasure among treasures.
Needless to say (but I’ve said it already), the ensemble is razor-keen, the rhythm sections (with West, Josef Herzberg or Grahame O’Shea in the driver’s seat) strong and sure, the soloists spry and inventive. I could go on for hours, but I’m sure you get the idea— Discover the Spirit is a remarkably vivacious and thoroughly pleasurable album from end to end, and not to be missed.
Track Listing: Count Bubba; Who Can I Turn To?; Lonely Street; This Is Always; Good News; Silky; A Salute to Elvis Costello; Almost There; The Never-ending Ending Blues; Our Love Is Here to Stay; West Side Story Suite (68:16).
Personnel: John Ellis, music director; Damian Bell, Tom Tait, Tom Ashe, Peter Horsfall, Simon Nixon, Sean Hollis, Gareth Smith, trumpet; Chris Groves, Richard Potts, Stuart Garside, trombone; Matthew Edwards, bass trombone; Mark Ellis, alto, soprano sax; Chris Proctor, Mimi Haddon, alto sax; Sarah Heath, Tom Rodgers, tenor sax, flute; Oriol Singhji, Ben Mallinder, tenor sax; Dean Nixon, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Mark Atkinson, baritone sax; Libbi Gwyther, clarinet, flute; Matt Baker, John Escreet, piano; Manolo Polidario, guitar; Paul Grady, Jonathan Hughes, bass; Josef Herzberg, Grahame O