REVIEW: Let It Be Told: Julian Argüelles & Birmingham Conservatoire students at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham

Julian Argüelles with the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra
Photo credit: Brian Homer

Julian Argüelles and Birmingham Conservatoire students: Let It Be Told
(CBSO Centre, Birmingham,  22 June 2017. Review and pictures by Brian Homer)

First a disclaimer – I love the South African jazz that Julian Argüelles featured on his award-winning CD Let It Be Told (review) so this piece is not dispassionate! As well as being based on the wonderful music of Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Dyani and others, Let It Be Told features the very lovely arrangements that Julian did for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

I missed out on hearing Let It Be Told at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival through illness (reviewed here), so I was not going to let this opportunity escape. That said, Julian’s music is about more than just the South African connection so before we got to the Let It Be Told music, the first set was made up of two different smaller bands of Julian with conservatoire students playing his tunes.

Although it was Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course leavers’ concert, the students also included first, second and third years, and indeed one student – trombonist Sam Shelton – who has yet to start his studies at the Conservatoire. Catch’em young, as they say in football…

The first ensemble, a quintet, played Peace For D (with hints of South African influence), Nitty Gritty and Phaedrus, while the septet that followed played Asturias, A Lifelong Moment and Iron Pyrites. Asturias is a reference to Julian being half-Spanish, Lifelong… a personal commission and Iron Pyrites is based on Fools Gold by The Stone Roses with every last drop of their tune being ironically deleted.

The playing throughout the first set was uniformly good and it was impressive the way that Julian led, supported and interacted with the students with a light but firm touch. His soloing was perfectly judged throughout.

Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra
Photo credit: Brian Homer

And so to the South African musical gold , this time with the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra. All but Mandisa by Chris McGregor were on the Let It Be Told record. And the students did the music proud One distinguished fellow audience member said he thought the band sounded as good as the fully professional Frankfurt band had done at Cheltenham, which is quite remarkable, considering that the CBSO Centre is a more intimate venue. To my ears this was a superb set doing full justice to its South African roots.

I have vivid memories of seeing the first version of the Brotherhood of Breath in London in the late 1960s and early ’70s and Arguelles and the BCJO kicked off with a great version of Mra Khali by Dudu Pukwana which featured brilliantly on the first BoB record in 1971.

Given the very high standard of the playing from Julian and all the students it seems a bit churlish to pick out particular players – a bit like football (again) this was a true team performance. But across the pieces Christos Stylianedes and Frank Heather (trumpets), Charlie Bates (piano) Sam Wright (reeds), Nick Brown (tenor), Josh Tagg (trombone), Sam Ingvorsen (bass), Dan Kemshell (guitar) and Xhosa Cole (baritone sax) all soloed strongly – Xhosa took on the exposing bass clarinet solo part in the introduction to Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding very impressively. And in the South African set the double drum combination of Gwilym Jones and Charlie Johnson really worked and gave a kicking underpinning to the set.

The other tracks off Let It Be Told were Johnny Dyani’s Mama Marimba, Dudu’s Diamond Express, McGregor’s Amasi and the traditional Amabutho (little played for its difficulty, according to Julian) which was beautifully played by an octet drawn from the big band. They finished with a very lively version of Come Again by Dudu to cap off a truly engaging gig. And how great it is to see young UK players being exposed to the SA jazz connection.

Julian Lloyd-Webber presenting an Honorary Fellowship toJulian Argüelles
Photo credit: Brian Homer 
The whole evening, as well as featuring leaving students, was a kind of portrait of Julian’s highly successful career in jazz, from his beginnings in Staffordshire and the West Midlands to his current professorship in Graz, Austria and his high standing in the jazz world, so it was fitting that it was preceded by the awarding of an Honorary Fellowship of Birmingham Conservatoire to recognise his career and his support of the Conservatoire. The Fellowship was bestowed by Birmingham Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd-Webber.

Full Line-Ups:

Quintet: Julian Argüelles – saxophone, Christos Stylianedes – trumpet, Charlie Bates – piano, James Owston – bass, Noah Stone – drums.

Septet: Julian Argüelles – saxophone, Frank Heather – trumpet, Sam Wright – reeds, Josh Tagg – trombone, Tom Harris – piano, Aram Bahmaie – bass, Jonathan Silk – drums.

Big band: Julian Argüelles – saxophone, Gareth Howell, Christos Stylianedes, Alex Stride, Frank Heather – trumpets, Josh Tagg, Toby Carr, Sam Shelton – trombones, Ashley Naylor – bass trombone, Josh Schofield, Sam Wright – alto saxes, Nick Brown, Dan Spirrett – tenor saxes, Xhosa Cole – baritone saxophone, bass clarinet,  Dan Kemshell guitar, Charlie Bates – piano, Sam Ingvorsen – bass, Charlie Johnson, Gwilym Jones – drums.

Categories: miscellaneous

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