CD REVIEW: Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra – Live

Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra – Live
(Tom Haines Music THMCD001. Review by Peter Bacon)

Composer Tom Haines who lives and works in Warwickshire, raised the money for this recording via a crowdfunding appeal and enlisted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, started in 2014 by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, to perform five of his works before an audience at Stratford Jazz’s 30th birthday celebrations in December last year.

I was there on the night (my review on thejazzbreakfast) and was hugely impressed both by the strength and originality of Haines’ writing and by the way it was interpreted and brought to vivid life by the youthful BJO.

What sounds fine live doesn’t always pass muster when subjected to the more exacting scrutiny possible when a recording is made and turned into a CD. So I am delighted to find that in this case not only does the recording confirm my delight on the night, it actually sounds much better than the live balance could manage in what was a difficult room – circular – for amplification.

Tom Haines has, to my ears, a really fresh approach to big band writing. I get the impression he is a composer first and foremost (as opposed to a player who also composes) and he brings a broad set of influences to his writing – minimalism and contemporary as well as jazz – plus a really detailed ear and eye to the arrangements.

The opener, Yitzoid, exemplifies this approach: tight section motifs interlaced and then overlaid, a lot of jumpiness and silent spaces between the stacked-up notes. Chris Young on alto and Sean Gibbs on trumpet both get generous solo space against a rhythm section – Ben Lee on guitar, David Ferris on piano, Stuart Barker on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums – on a rolling boil.

On the other tracks there are sterling solo efforts from Elliot Drew on soprano, Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone, Kieran McLeod on trombone, Ben Lee, Mike Adlington on flugelhorn, John Fleming and Vittorio Mura on tenors, David Ferris and Jonathan Silk – all of them just lovely!

Strange Utopia features a vocal from Rosie Harris that again stresses the mix of stylistic influences in the writing, her approach more classical than jazz, but here the band risks overwhelming the singer and as a composition it’s perhaps a near miss rather than a palpable hit.

In the end it’s the overall mix of great ensemble playing and strong soloing that make this such a satisfying listen – and that all goes back to having fine writing as the base metal for the band to work with. Haines, the BJO and engineer Luke Morrish-Thomas all deserve a resounding hurrah.

This album is released on 2 June.

LINK: Tom Haines’ website

Categories: miscellaneous

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