Birmingham Jazz Orchestra

Symphony Hall Stage, Birmingham UK

This Jazzlines gig was also the official launch of Rough Boundaries, Birmingham Jazz Orchestra’s second album since its formation in 2014. Jacky Naylor, composer and conductor of this suite consisting of musical portraits of five cities, explained each one.

He has an endearing way of introducing the sections. “For those of you who don’t know, Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland,” might appear to the uninitiated like talking down to one’s audience but in fact it’s more a reflection of Naylor’s clear and unapologetic attitude to communication, whether in speech or music. Of course while his instructions to the musicians seated before him, via impeccably printed scores or in precise hand gestures, might be equally direct the music that emerges as a result is a lot more multi-layered, subtle and complex.

Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Jacky Naylor, on the Symphony Hall Stage last night (I stole this pic from Jacky's Facebook Timeline - I hope he doesn't mind)

Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Jacky Naylor, with Ben Lee and RIchard Foote soloing on the Symphony Hall Stage last night (I stole this pic from Jacky’s Facebook Timeline – I hope he doesn’t mind)

His ensemble writing is atmospheric, sometimes directly imitative – breaths and whistles of wind through the brass at the start of Reykjavik, an eloquent snake-charming soprano saxophone solo from Josh Schofield in Marrakech just two examples – but also shows a distinct and personal take on the tradition of jazz orchestra writing, whether from Ellington, Schneider, Brookmeyer or Mendoza.

One of the things I admire most about Jacky’s writing is the way he weaves the solos into the composition – so many writers for large ensemble, and this includes some of the greats, resort to just soloist with rhythm section during the solo sections which always feels to me like a bit of a cop-out. I also like the way he sometimes combines two soloists in an exchange of lines or in simultaneous soloing – for example, Ben Lee on guitar and David Ferris on piano in the latter stages of Moscow, and trombonist Richard Foote and Lee again batting ideas back and forth during Bilbao.

There were also fine solos from Lee Griffiths on alto saxophone, John Fleming on tenor, Hugh Pascall and Tom Syson on trumpets, and Jonathan Silk on drums. All are not only exemplary team players but bring their own distinctive characters into their playing, another huge plus not only for Naylor but for anyone lucky enough to get to write for this band.

Having listened to the album quite a bit and now heard this music performed twice in concert, it is also clear that it is starting to feel more settled and relaxed with time, more of the potential which is there in the writing released with each new performance. Just listen to those busy, interweaving lines running through the band at the start of Bilbao, the stately harmonies yet delicate intonation of Stockholm‘s early stages, the building swirls of colour and bustle in the souks of Marrakech – it really is very classy stuff, and played with great panache.

If trumpeter and BJO founder Sean Gibbs writes music with a bit more swagger and a broader sense of humour to it, his introductions reflect that too. He summed up Tam O’Shanter – from his Burns suite which was BJO’s first album and provided this evening’s grand finale – as “a warning for people who like to go out and get pissed”. It contained some suitably lary behaviour from Lee and an equally rambunctious solo from tenor man Vittorio Mura.

Although the BJO is wanting to specialise in original compositions it extended that remit to original arrangements for this concert, so in addition to David Ferris’s original Billy’s Blue Magic Woman we had John Taylor’s Mayday arranged by baritone saxophonist/bass clarinettist Alicia Gardener-Trejo and Elliot Mason’s Two Sides One Story arranged by trombonist David Sear.

All their contributions and the playing of an exceptionally fine band made for a rich 90 minutes of orchestral jazz with the Symphony Hall auditorium as a backdrop (this is part of a series of Jazzlines concerts which seats the audience where the orchestra would naturally be, the performers at the front of the SH stage but facing backwards). It is my hearfelt hope (and I believe it will be one shared by many when they hear this band) that maybe one day the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra will get to play facing the other way – and to a packed Symphony Hall. Sure it might take years, decades even, but these musicians – their talents, their efforts, their dedication, their sheer joy in playing – undoubtedly deserve it.

  • In case you missed them, there is a review of the Burns CD HERE, one of Rough Boundaries HERE and an interview with Jacky Naylor HERE.

Categories: Live review

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1 reply

  1. Gutted that I missed this concert, I would’ve loved to have been there to witness the fantastic band and hear Jacky’s music live. I highly recommend both of their albums.

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