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The Spike Orchestra and John Zorn's "The Book Beriah"

Phil Barnes By

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"This time round I got nine tunes on the e-mail, then we skyped and he played me a track from everyone else's album and said ..."yours has got to sit with that and it's got to be better than the last thing you did, because if it is not better than the last thing you did then what's the point...." I had a fortnight to arrange the album before I needed to start sending the music out to the players. So I sat at the computer every morning at 7 am, I stopped at 6 pm to make dinner for my wife and then went back to work until at least midnight and pretty much did an arrangement a day."

The deadline, in particular, was a complicating factor because Eastmond prefers to work by writing for the musicians who will play on the session—even with a longer lead time getting the blend of musicians right can be difficult both in terms of the availability of talent but also the emotional intelligence to gel with the rest of the unit. Eastmond explains:

"I'm not an abstract writer I don't write for a concept of a big band. I write for people whose voices excite and inspire me, not only for what they can do musically but who you know how to work with, that you can trust. Composition and arranging is all about solving problems—when I arrange I'm trying to give the musicians that I am working with problems that they can solve with their language. Things to overcome, things to come round. So when I'm writing my two instinctive reactions to any problems are to write more and to add more people and this is not a commercial standpoint!"

Fortunately, the musicians selected for the Binah sessions are a showcase of some of the best UK talent around—doing Zorn's music and Eastmond's arrangement justice. Alongside trusted long-term Eastmond collaborators like Moss Freed on guitar, are players like Noel Langley and Yazz Ahmed (whose collaboration on the latter's La Saboteuse deservedly made many best of 2017 lists) on trumpet and rising star Elliot Galvin on piano. Eastmond described the rhythm section of Galvin, Freed, Mark Lewandowski (double bass) and Will Glaser on drums as being "instantly like a family" and its clear that he genuinely values the contributions of all those involved. Indeed Galvin, Glaser and Freed are currently working with Eastmond on a quartet project that will also feature Otto Willberg who played bass on Cerberus. Eastmond's rationale for the approach is simple:

"As a trumpet player I am dealing with an instrument that most of the time you can only play one note on. When I've got a big band I can have all of the notes happening at the same time! How do I solve a problem that I would usually add three trumpet parts to, if I can only ask one trumpet player to do it? A lot of the time the answer to that is to get players like Noel, Yazz and George Hogg. The intensity of that many people in a room together who all have a common purpose but don't necessarily agree on how to get there, that's where it is interesting for me. We have to finish here but we can have a big argument about how we get there..."

Inevitably the large ensemble approach makes studio time even more precious and requires a borderline obsessional attention to detail if a budget is to be lived within:

"When you turn up to play on my records I have been working on this for months. I send the music out at least a month in advance. There cannot be a question from anyone at any point that I don't have the answer to—when you have three people and you're not sure then you can walk round there, when you have sixteen... Every day after a session I go back through the parts that musicians have had and where they have written stuff in pencil I put it in the score and I print out a new set of parts for the next day so that everything that they think is helpful that wasn't on their part IS on their part for next time. I do that with pieces that we are not going to play the next day, pieces that are finished that we have recorded. If you give me a budget I can be the most organised guy, I can deal with money, people, logistics—that's where I feel that I have the talent—as the leader of the group. But give me a shopping list and a list of jobs to do that aren't connected to music and I'm hopeless!"

To work like this with this level of intensity, the motivation needs to be deep and heartfelt. For Eastmond this comes from a spiritual realm and feeling of making connections to a cultural tradition from modern perspectives. He elaborates:


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