Based in Birmingham, England, the record company Stoney Lane is named after a street where soccer team West Bromwich Albion once played. Thus, each of the label's releases is numbered with a glory year from the club's past, whether a promotion or a cup win. However, so often have West Brom yo-yoed between England's top leagues that its fans sing a famous 'boing boing' chant which involves much jumping, bouncing and arm-flailing. Should those fans invest this energy in a local music act, they might well end up following nine-piece brass outfit Young Pilgrims.
Growing from the cool Birmingham scene circa 2016, the group has since performed around Britain's old bandstands and at the Paris Jazz Festival. Contrasts clearly appeal to them, as evidenced on this vibrant and varied album where thoughtful arrangements allow yearning melodies to seep through. Where some of their London contemporaries merely set up then blow and bash away, Young Pilgrims offer an array of shades yet remain free from rigidity. This album is all about flavour, discreetly seasoned with its own electric heat. Its power comes from staying sensitive to the nuance of each instrument.
Things open with a vivacious burst entitled "Intro," before the handclapped exuberance of "Rufio" sees soloists get their turn amid the ensemble's chord stacks. Rhythmic riffs and funky trumpet on "Hall Of Meat" conjure an urban hustle of cinematic poise, reminding us of Elmer Bernstein's quote about movies turning to jazz when someone steals a car. So, when Young Pilgrims later cover L.A.'s excellent R&B act Vulfpeck, it all adds up. Their sultry take on the group's song "Back Pocket" harks to Leith Stevens's tense score for The Wild One.
Other covers include Elliott Smith's wistful indie ballad "Everything Means Nothing To Me" being given a regretful and romantic air. A smoochy arrangement of "Feel Like Making Love" also shows the value of simplicity, both in the adaptation and original tune.
More subtle variants come with "Kabuki Dance" where writhing rhythms meet township jive; "Pilgrimage" has an edgy swagger and growling groove, while the regal "Dear Green Place" brings a pastoral tone befitting an English colliery band. As a city, Birmingham is big on waterways and "Canal Tripping" honours a stranger who saved band member Richard Foote (and his trombone) from a canal plunge. Suitably, it opens on a desperate blast before the horns trade licks more comfortably.
A recording which captures the natural brilliance of brass, this album is a genuine delight.
Intro; Rufio; Hall Of Meat; Kabuki Dance; Back Pocket; Pilgrimage; Everything Means Nothing To Me; Dear Green
Place; Canal Tripping; I Of The Underground; Feel Like Making Love.
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