CD REVIEW: Birmingham Jazz Orchestra – Burns

Birmingham Jazz Orchestra – Burns
(Self-released. CD Review by Peter Jones)

There’s been a distinct revival of interest in big bands lately, with more young players seemingly enjoying the camaraderie and learning opportunities offered by a large ensemble. It’s also interesting to see younger players writing their own big band charts. Recently the Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble, for example, breathed wonderful new life into the format with their album Back To The Grove – REVIEWED HERE.

Now comes Scottish-born trumpeter Sean Gibbs, just turned 22, with a selection of his own compositions and arrangements inspired by the poetry of Robert Burns, his stated aim to ‘capture the warmth, drama and humanity’ of Burns’s work.

Here he directs an orchestra which itself only came into being in September of last year, consisting partly of alumni of the Birmingham Conservatoire – from which he has only just graduated.

Burns is a short album, running to the length of an old-fashioned LP, but fortunately it’s all killer, no filler, packed with vibrancy and passion, and bursting with slick soloists and a superbly well-drilled team of players. The swing-shuffle Tam O’Shanter, faintly reminiscent of Nostalgia In Times Square, blows away the cobwebs straight from the off, with some great hardcore guitar soloing from Ben Lee. Muscular, in-the-pocket drumming from Jonathan Silk drives the tune along powerfully, especially as it clatters into a fast section with a growling tenor solo contribution from Lluis Mather.

Love In The Guise Of Friendship is sweeter, more introspective, with a lovely trombone passage from Richard Foote. Like its predecessor, this track also has a distinctive ‘second movement’ which picks up the tempo and gives Elliot Drew the chance to show off his chops on alto. The tune is followed by a big, fat uptempo swinger Nature’s Law, featuring the fluent Nick Dewhurst on trumpet, the hip David Ferris on piano, and Ben Lee returning for a second solo, this time more Grant Green in style.

To A Mountain Daisy opens with an elegiac flute passage from Josie Wilkin, handing over to Hugh Pascall for a light and spacious trumpet solo, before the tune starts to build to the now-obligatory second section, handing over to Dan Seargeant on alto for a sweet, melodic solo whose mood becomes increasingly urgent, finally subsiding to a close as the tune ends. Address To The Toothache belies its title, breezing along with more inventive soloing from Ferris.

Whether this album has much to do with 18th century Scottish poetry, I wouldn’t like to say, but it has certainly inspired Sean Gibbs to impressive musical heights for one so young. It’s an album I will be listening to a lot.

Burns is available from Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. I heartily agree with this review. And check out Rough Boundaries – the second BJO release, this time with all the music composed and conducted by Jacky Naylor. It's just out!

  2. First heard Tam o'Shanter on R3, and was pretty impressed…I've been listening to the Burns album on Spotify, and it's tremendous!, full of drive, swings like hell,and packed with zesty, passionate playing. Absolutely bang on…

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