Review: John Cervantes Ensemble

John Cervantes Ensemble
(Forge Venue, December 11th 2010, review by Jane Stringfellow)

The multiple talents of John Cervantes were very much in evidence at Camden Town’s Forge Venue (above) last Saturday. First as composer: he had written seven of the nine pieces played, which on a first hearing showed remarkable exploration of texture and some moments of real depth. He had arranged all the works performed. As music director he was leading a thirteen piece ensemble with a conductor’s precision, and infinite care for balance and tuning. Cervantes, the pianist plays beautifully and lyrically.

The sight of a large ensemble (jazz octet + string quartet + harp) on stage was impressive
but how much more impressive to hear them play. The band featured many gifted musicians, well known saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, and others who may become similarly established in the future.

The set began with Latin, a tune that could have come straight out of a Havana jazz club. Themes were passed from saxophones to strings with fine soloing from Stan Sulzmann. Sulzmann’s soloing came to the fore again in Simple Song and was well matched by guitarist Alex Munk, whose fluent playing made his complex rhythms seem simple. After the concert Cervantes acknowledged the contribution that the master Sulzman made, and Sulzmann himself was very enthustiastic about the being part of the ensemble.

However the younger musicians were key too and trumpet soloing from nineteen year old Tom Hart in Day of the Mayfly was reminiscent of Cuban Jose Miguel Crego. Cervantes’ use of strings in this number made one wonder why more jazz composers don’t use them; cost presumably, or lack of contact with string players.

Para Megan, by Hermeto Pascoal, was another arrangement making excellent use of strings underpinning solos. Kate Carroll played a fine violin solo the last number, Jonathan Livingston Seagull – it was a shame that we had to wait until the last number to hear a string player solo!

The enthusiastic audience would not let the band leave without an encore, they knew they had seen something special. The gig will apparently be produced as a live CD, which will be well worth listening to when it becoes available.

John Cervantes is a composer, arranger and musician to watch out for. It is testimony to the Musicians’ Development Fund Award that they provide resources for a large exciting ensemble which might be hard to finance otherwise at an early stage.

Personnel: Stan Sulzmann – guest soloist, soprano/tenor saxophone; Tom Walsh – trumpet; Joe Wright – soprano/tenor saxophone; Kieran Mcleod – trombone; John Cervantes – piano; Alex Munk – guitar; Tom West – bass; Dave Hamblett – drums; Kate Cole – violin; Alice Barron – violin; Jenny Wilkinson – viola; Alice Murray – cello; Elen Hydref – harp.

Forge Venue Website

Categories: miscellaneous

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