As Great Britain's superb National Youth Jazz Orchestra is now a mature forty years old, it seems appropriate that it should honor the city of its birth, even though director Bill Ashton writes that London Pride was occasioned not by the orchestra's inexorable advance toward middle age, but rather by London's having won the right last July to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, an achievement that was tempered the following day by a deadly attack on the London underground transport system by four homegrown terrorists. "I knew immediately, Ashton writes, "that NYJO, as a London-based orchestra, [should] pay tribute to the spirit and resilience of Londoners.
To do so, Ashton and NYJO have put together a delightful 75-minute homage that's guaranteed to please any Londoner (with an ear for music). It certainly made my heart beat faster, and I live in New Mexico! Who could be unmoved on hearing Noel Coward's patriotic "London Pride, marvelously sung by special guest Dame Cleo Laine (and deftly arranged by her husband, Sir John Dankworth), or Ashton's "London, an endearing showcase for rising star vocalist Atila Huseyin, who shines as well on Carroll Coates' evocative "London by Night. There's a splendid vocal by Francesca Lewis on Ashton's rockin' "New in London, another by Lauren Derwent on Bob Dowell's convivial arrangement of "Follow the Van (aka "My Old Man ).
The rest is all NYJO, and the ensemble excels on everything from Paul Hart's Olympic-scale "Five Ring Fanfare (a distant cousin of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man ) to the standards "A Nightingale Swang (in Berkeley Square, of course) and "A Foggy Day, luminous originals by Evan Jolly ("Lisson Groove ) and Bruce Turner ("2:02 to Tooting ) and tantalizing arrangements (by Steve Parry, Steve Gray, Mark Armstrong and Jolly, respectively) of the traditional themes "Citrus Fruit with Bells On, "My Old Dutch, "London's Burning and "Pop Goes the Weasel. Armstrong arranged "Nightingale, Steve Titchener "A Foggy Day, and each one is an explicit highlight.
As always, NYJO is sharp and synchronous as a unit, while the soloists are notably vigorous and resourceful. They include trumpeters Paul Eshelby, Freddie Gavita and (sixteen-year-old) Henry Armburg-Jennings; altos Tommy Laurence and Simon Meredith, tenors Nik Carter and Dave Shulman, baritone Richard Shepherd, trombonists Alistair White and Jon Stokes, pianist Will Bartlett, guitarist Chris Allard and drummer James Maddren. Pete Long, who arranged "Tooting, fashions a robust tenor solo on that one, while Joe Stilgoe sits in for Bartlett and pounds out some terrific barrelhouse piano to push the high-spirited "Van in gear.
If renewing and perpetuating pride is the goal, mission accomplishedand then some. Beyond that purpose, NYJO has produced yet another superlative album of big band jazz, one whose unvarying quality speaks for itself. When all is said and swung, this is a luminous and impressive work of art that "Londoners the world over can cherish and appreciate.
Five Ring Fanfare; London Pride; Citrus Fruit with Bells On; A Nightingale Swang; London; Lisson Groove; My Old Dutch; London
Bill Ashton: director; Alex Maynard, Jean-Paul Gervasoni, Evan Jolly, Freddie Gavita, Henry
Armburg-Jennings, Paul Shelby (7): trumpet; Simon Meredith, Tommy Laurence, Sam
Mayne, Dave Shulman, Nik Carter, Richard Shepherd: reeds; Alistair White, Jon Stokes, Billy
Yates, Natalie Witts, Rhys Smith, Tim Smart, Rob Harvey, Lewis Edney, Dan West:
trombone; Chris Bishop: horn; Emily Hall, Paul Greenwood: flute; Will Bartlett, Joe Stilgoe
(14): piano; Tommy Emmerton, Chris Allard: guitar; Paul Michael: bass; James Maddren:
drums; Scott Chapman, Mark MacDonald: percussion; Lauren Derwent: percussion, vocals;
Atila Huseyin, Francesca Lewis: vocals. Special guest artist: Dame Cleo Laine: vocals (2).