Review: Nu Civilisation Orchestra

Binker Golding directing the Nu Civilisation Orchestra
Photo Credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights reserved
Nu Civilisation Orchestra (Dir. Peter Edwards / Binker Golding)
Purcell Room, March 3rd 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This was an enthusiastically attended evening of lively, varied, expertly played contemporary big band music. It went under various confusing names, such as “Music Nation Weekend at the South Bank Centre,” which as far as I could work out was a series of unrelated and separately ticketed gigs. It was also called “Firebird – A Stravinsky-Parker Soundclash”, where any trace of Stravinsky’s ballet was, er, singularly absent. But, since one goes to an event like this in order to respond to the music itself rather than the descriptions of it, all that really doesn’t matter much.

Words don’t help, then, but Ben Amure’s two pictures here do tell the story of last night rather well. Bassist Gary Crosby, who founded the orchestra, has now yielded the musical direction to two highly capable and talented bandleaders/ arrangers/ conductors with well-contrasted personalities, Peter Edwards (below) and Binker Golding (above).

The pair, who also collaborate seamlessly and supportively as a team – that’s jazz, it can’t work any other way – take the upfront role very differently. Golding wears his heart more on his sleeve, the band responds to his passionate gestures by playing with blazing commitment. His music is vivid, sculpted, on fire. Edwards (below)is a quieter but at the same time perhaps the more commanding presence, rooted in the tradition, living it, bringing it to life, right here right now, and consciously extending it, with elegantly crafted, highly melodic, instantly appealing homages to, for example,Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Bobby Timmons

Peter Edwards directing the Nu Civilisation Orchestra
Photo credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved

The most ambitious piece was a four-movement suite composed by Golding entitled The Maenads. In the outer movements the scoring is deliberately vivid and violent in intent, with rasping, snarling brass. By way of complete contrast, the third section “Come to the Mountain” cycled a calming four-bar Radiohead-ish phrase. The suite deserves more frequent outings. I didn’t see a single audience member bothering to sink the head into the programme to find out what the titles were all about. And that’s for a simple reason: when the music is this strong, the narrative lines so energetic, it speaks for itself.

There were fine individual contributions from members of the orchestra throughout the evening.Theon Cross nailed the lopsided grooves on tuba with precision and humour. Drummer Andy Chapman was flawless. On trumpet Mark Perry took his moments to shine. Will Gibson‘s alto sax solos took the listener on a fascinating journey every time, and he clearly had the tricky idiom and metres of Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto completely under his fingers. The trumpet section of this band play across, as a real section. The lower brass give wonderful colour.

As our Friday ccolumnist Jack Davies wrote last October,
there is amazing life and energy in young big bands in the UK. Last night proved it: Nu Civilisation Orchestra are part of something big.

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra is produced by Dune Music

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Everyone at Tomorrow's Warriors is immensely proud of the Nu Civvies and their continuing development under Peter Edwards into such an exciting and original ensemble. Next up – Joe Harriott's Parallel, coming this autumn.

  2. Yes a superb evening thoroughly enjoyed it. Agree with you that as far as Stravinsky's “Firebird” was concerned didn't really pick up any musical references however in the Maenad Suite I did detect some influence from “The Rite of Spring” – or was I imagining that?

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