You'd be hard pressed to find a similarly sized big-band with the energy and spark exhibited by Manchester outfit Beats and Pieces Big Band. The fourteen-piece ensemble began life in the Royal Northern College of Music in 2008, when Ben Cottrell
gathered thirteen of his fellow musicians to give life to his compositions. Ten years on, and in the same rehearsal room where it all started, Cottrell leads the band through ten tunesplayed entirely from memorythat are a celebration of one of the most dynamic large ensembles ever to have emerged from the UK jazz scene.
Big-band jazz it undoubtedly is, but the explosive electric guitar opening to "Nois," courtesy of Anton Hunter
, and Finlay Panter
's lively drum patterns, announce the ensemble's contemporary leanings in the most visceral manner. Nick Walters
's commanding trumpet solo, played against finely layered trombone, saxophone and trumpet lines, places the ensemble's other foot firmly in the jazz tradition, though rhythmic roots closer to urban dance culture and an indie rock underbelly continually attest to the musicians' more modern musical idioms. For a band hailing from the musical cauldron that is Manchester, it could hardly be otherwise. Stewart Wilson
's feverish bass ostinato pulses through the urgent "Jazzwalk," an intense car-chase soundtrack featuring a gnarly improvisation from Hunter. Walters again impresses with a sinewy solo on the slow intro to "Three," a song very much of two halves, as thereafter Tom Ward
's baritone saxophone pulls the ensemble into more hedonistic terrain. Cottrell examines the full range of the band's dynamic possibilities on "Pop" and "Toan," where diverse texturesfrom pop to avant-gardeand shifting metres are framed by rising-falling waves of intensity.
Beats and Pieces, however, doesn't tread the same stylistic water for too long. Richard Jones' searching Rhodes, and an electric bass groove, combine to lend quite different textures to the mellifluous yet driving "Rain." By way of contrast, Hunter's pedal effects and loops bookend the captivating "Broken," where dreamy reverie and stirring collective exclamation are artfully bridged by tenor saxophonist Anthony Brown
. On "Hendo,"
The accompanying DVD shows Cottrell, who takes on additional rhythm guitar duties, directing with an infectious energy. His seemingly loose idiosyncratic gestures belie the tight arrangements and the ensemble's discipline, though at the same time, are indicative of a freedom that embraces the musical personalities in the band. This happy symbiosis of collective control and individual expression is beautifully embodied in the three-way trombone dialog at the heart of the episodic thriller "Toan," or on rousing set-closer "Hendo," whose firm funk foundations pave the way for soprano saxophonist Oliver Dover
's free-spirited blowing.
With many the members leading their own projects, the challenge for Cottrell will be to keep the nucleus of the band together. Yet even if the time between tours and recordings becomes longer, it would be a shame if Beats and Pieces Big Band, the Loose Tubes of its era, wasn't around to celebrate its twentieth anniversary.
Nois; Jazzwalk; Three; Rain; Time; Broken; Pop; Toan; Banger; Hendo.
Ben Cottrell: director, additional electric guitar; Anthony Brown: tenor saxophone; Oliver Dover: alto saxophone;
Tom Ward: baritone saxophone; Richard Foote: trombone; Simon Lodge: trombone; Rich McVeigh: trombone; Owen
Bryce: trumpet; Graham South: trumpet; Nick Walters: trumpet; Anton Hunter: guitar; Richard Jones: piano, Rhodes;
Stewart Wilson: acoustic bass, electric bass; Finlay Panter: drums.