Jonathan Silk’s Fragment

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

This event was even more special than I had expected. Such are the difficulties when recording a big band and a string section – getting everyone in the same studio, getting everyone there on the same day – that this was the first time all these musicians had played this music in the same room at the same time. And it was a great privilege to be there when they did it.

With the strings to the left, the horns to the right, the rhythm section between them and conductor Andrew Bain in front, we were treated not only to the album Fragment, which came out last month on Stoney Lane Records, but to some music which didn’t quite make it onto the silver disc.

As so often, a live performance helps to make more sense of music one has only heard via a hi-fi, and it was great to focus in on different sections or different players, and not just the ones in the spotlight at the time. So, listening to the comfortable blend of the saxophones – Mike Fletcher, Chris Maddock, John Fleming, Joe Wright, Rob Cope – in support or the always highly-focussed bassist Nick Jurd was as much fun as homing in on the solos from, among others, trumpeters Mike Addlington and Reuben Fowler, pianists Toby Boalch and Andy Bunting, trombonist Richard Foote, and Maddock and Fleming.

There were times when even a band of this quality fell into that old trap of amateur big bands – playing too loudly behind soloists. I really don’t think it should be dependent upon the PA system to lift a single, improvising instrument over the top of an accompanying riff, and in Barefeet even the microphone was no help to Mike Fletcher’s alto as he disappeared beneath the waves of brass. Getting a balance between brass and strings is not easy either and the latter, despite being mic-ed, sometimes lost the argument.

All that said, this was a remarkable performance, not just because of the number of players on stage but because Jonathan Silk’s music manages to pack a lot of ideas in for them to play and still leaves some air in the music, some room to breathe. Silk beamed from behind his drums throughout, and so he should. He has a lot to be proud of.

This was yet another new peak in Birmingham jazz history achieved by the young generation of jazz musicians now based here. And take into account the relatively small musician overlap between this band and the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra which had performed in Stratford two evenings prior, and it’s clear this is a scene not only with strength but with substantial depth as well.

Categories: Live review

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