PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Frankfurt Radio Big Band, programmes with Julian Argüelles and Lizz Wright in Cheltenham (30 Apr & 1 May)

Appearing at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival:
The Frankfurt Radio Big Band with Jim McNeely

The Frankfurt Radio Big Band (known inside Germany as the hr-Bigband – hr stands for Hessischer Rundfunk) tours extensively in Europe and beyond. It has appeared in the past few years in Portugal, China, and Italy, and tours to France, Switzerland and Austria are also regular occurrences.

Tours to the UK are a different matter. The band is about to make what will be only its second ever trip here, for two appearances in Cheltenham’s splendid 1903 Town Hall at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

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Their first appearance was at last year’s EFG London Jazz Festival with Phronesis (REVIEWED). When I spoke to the Olaf Stötzler, who has been General Manager of the band for the past eleven years he said they are enjoying connecting with the UK jazz scene in this way. “It’s new for us, it’s exciting,”

I then asked him what kind of mission the The Frankfurt Radio Big Band has, and indeed how it would attempt to distinguish it from, for example the WDR Band from Cologne and the NDR Band from Hamburg. He explained that the band has as one of its primary objectives to work with the great figures in contemporary jazz rather than necessarily with people who will instantly make you think ‘big band.’ So they have just done projects with Nils Petter Molvaer and Lionel Loueke, and have also worked with Vijay Iyer. It will shortly do a project with Kurt Rosenwinkel, and has just announced a Sgt. Pepper commission by Django Bates, to be premiered in October (NEWS STORY).

That is the context into which their work with Julian Argüelles fits. Stötzler explained he was particularly pleased to bring their project with him and to be bringing over his , Let It Be Told for its UK premiere. Let It Be Told celebrates the music of the South African exiles. It has been recorded (LINK TO INTERVIEW) and has become a firm favourite with the band. “We really enjoy working with Julian,” Stötzler told me. They had done another project with him in 2009, also resulting in a recording, Momenta.

The other concert is more typical big band fare. The band will be working for the very first time with singer Lizz Wright on a Gershwin-themed programme. They have commissioned its chief conductor Jim McNeely to do the arrangements. McNeely and Wright met for the first time in New York a couple of months ago, the set-list is agreed and the arrangements are mostly written. This project will have its premiere on the Thursday before the Cheltenham Festival at the Alte Oper in the Opernplatz in Frankfirt at the very heart of the city.  


Sat 30 Apr 2016 7:00pm – Lizz Wright & Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Town Hall

“US star Lizz Wright seamlessly weaves her ‘honeyed jazz vocals’ (Guardian) through the genres of gospel, folk, pop, and blues, much like her recent collaborator Gregory Porter. Here she joins one of Europe’s finest jazz orchestras for the UK premiere of newly arranged Gershwin songs, created and conducted by the Grammy-winning talents of Jim McNeely.”

Plus a free performance of Alexander Hawkins’ Environment Music fifteen minutes before the event starts.


Sun 1 May 2016 1:00pm – Julian Argüelles: Let It Be Told
Frankfurt Radio Big Band with Julian Argüelles, Django Bates & Steve Argüelles
Town Hall

“Lift your spirit with the vibrant music of the South African exiles. Saxophonist Julian Argüelles presents thrilling new arrangements for big band with his Loose Tubes colleague Django Bates, his percussionist (and brother) Steve Argüelles, and the innovative Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Together they create joyous township grooves in an unmissable UK premiere.”


 LINK: Lizz Wright at the Alte Oper (in German)

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