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Review: Prom 65 – Martin Taylor and Guy Barker’s Spirit of Django

Prom 65. The Spirit of Django
Royal Albert Hall. August 31st 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The Spirit of Django, last night at a Late Night Prom in the Royal Albert Hall, used the combined forces of the Britten Sinfonia, the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra and Martin Taylor’s Spirit of Django group.

The piece was originally commissioned for the International Guitar Festival in 2010 to celebrate the Django Reinhardt centenary, and has grown into a six-movement, one hour work, with players filling the Albert Hall stage, and attracting a healthy-sized audience for its London premiere.

Guy Barker and Martin Taylor first met in their youth as members of Ray Crane’s youth big band in Harrow, roughly forty years ago, but hardly saw each other for thirty years. Friendly, regular active collaboration on this project happened in the summer of 2010, and both have written and spoken of how much they enjoyed the experience. It showed.

Six compositions of Martin Taylor have been arranged and extended to form a varied suite. The first four tunes are on the 2010 CD Last Train To Hauteville. Monsieur Jacques gave particular pleasure, a homage to the films of Jacques Tati, it put orchestra and band through their paces with some wonderful cartoon-like effects. The fifth movement The Fair-Haired Child, which gives the work its emotional heart, is in memory of the Taylors’ son Stewart who died tragically young. Here the intricate inner voicings of Martin Taylor’s solo increased the poignancy, and were a reminder of Martin Taylor’s investigations of solo guitar (that wonderful 1993 solo album Artistry is one that never goes away….) The final piece, Djangobop is a tune based on a helter-skelter of falling bebop arpeggios, remembering Django’s active interest late in life in the bebop music then coming out of New York and having such a profound effect on European musicians.

With such a vast array of musicians on stage, there is only space to mention a few: My Man of the Match would be the essential and irreplaceable Matt Skelton at the drum kit, with Chris Hill on jazz bass in close cahoots. Skelton set up the last movement brilliantly, his lively presence constantly adds colour and propulsion to even the largest of forces.

The contrasting melodic voices of Britten Sinfonia principal flute Laura Lucas and GBJO high trumpet Tom Rees Roberts also stay firmly in the mind.

The evening was brought to a close with a symphonic re-imagining of Nuages. Reinhardt’s wistful, long tune is perhaps an invitiation to provide counter-melodies: last night they seemed to be emerging from all corners of the huge stage. Tender phrases came from the Britten Sinfonia’s 83% = female first violin section, more brooding thoughts about clouds came from well-balanced and sonorous brass choirs, other melodic ideas were dipped in the warm wash of two shimmering harps. Mixing the metaphors, it was a lovely dessert.

The Britten Sinfonia have been working with Arve Hendriksen, they will be working with Andy Sheppard and Seb Rochford to celebrate their 20th anniversary in October. Get in. Classical-jazz collaborations are, clearly, go.

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2 replies »

  1. I'm afraid I found the string arrangements way too syrupy for my taste – I believe they git in the way of the jazz, rather than adding to it. There was some lovely playing by Martin Taylor and his band, though.

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