Review: Grand Union Orchestra – If Paradise…

Baluji Shrivastav in the Grand Union Orchestra
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Grand Union Orchestra Dir. Tony Haynes. If Paradise…
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, September 25th 2011. Review by Adam Tait)

Tony Haynes, composer and the Director of the Grand Union Orchestra, describes If Paradise… as ‘a kind of musical journey – but through emotions’, and there is indeed a constant sense of progression in the music.The narrative develops, not just through lyricism and theatricality, but also in the interplay between the contrasting English and Bengali voices, and mirrored in the interaction of the various instruments.

The recurring themes of spirituality and war, which are consistently explored and expressed, are mirrored in the recurrence of sitar and trumpet dominance. The story telling, with its powerful images drawn from religion and war support the music, and vice versa.

If Paradise… deals well with emotional peaks and troughs of lament and celebration. The music is pulled by such conflicting tendencies throughout, at times indulging in wild improvisation before delving back in to driving, pulsating rhythms. Serene calmness contests with frantic energy. Far from making the music awkward or mismatched, the divergence and contrast captivatingly adds to the sense of an emotional journey.

The Grand Union Orchestra is a tremendous coming-together of world music, spanning continents both in personnel and artistic influence. Even more impressive is the effortless slide between these different musical cultures. Pieces built around Indian ragas or West African drum pattern quickly turn in to snappy, bristling jazz rhythms, all controlled in unforced stylishness by drummer Brian Abrahams .

The musical narrative is carried alternately by blasting brass and shimmering sitars. Paul Jayasinha and Kevin Robinson on trumpet provide musical focal points with dazzling and soaring blasts. The exchange between the alternating traditions is delicately balanced and carefully planned. This is more than a little down to the fantastic talent pool from which the Orchestra sources its members, comprised of musicians from around the world, including Uruguay, Ghana, South Africa, Bangladesh and England, all of whom display vast virtuosity through out Claude Deppa’s striking trumpet solos and energetic struts around stage, and the tranquilly seated blind sitar player Baluji Shrivastav, balanced and entirely immersed in the music. His calm presence, juxtaposed against the feverish bursts of animation from the drum kit, is the image which will stay longest in the mind.


Categories: miscellaneous

4 replies »

  1. Sounds right up my street! Particularly glad to hear Brian Abrahams is playing again. I must catch up with Grand Union…

  2. You're too late mate, Brians gone back to Australia for some winter Paradise so you'll have to wait until spring to catch him. But hey, with or without Brian this Orch is always refreshingly pleasing.

    I was at the show and they certainly took me on a wonderful journey through some exciting and exotic soundscape. It would be great to experience one of their outdoor concerts (in fine weather)!!-)

    All thanks and praise to Tony Haynes and the gang for keeping this Grand Union alive and for so many years.

  3. This was one of the best shows I've seen for a long time! Interesting mix of musical cultures, highly original work there by Tony Haynes. Looking forward to the next gig at Hackney Empire on 11th November!
    Many thanks

  4. A well deserved mention of the trumpets here, but how about the saxophones? Wonderful solos and improvisational work on their part! And great to hear such a well used tuba!

    A thoroughly enjoyable show, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.

    (Also, have you checked out Chris May’s review regarding the CD? – http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=40473- Congrats!)

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