|Billy Marrows (right) receiving his 2018 Dankworth Award from
Emily Dankworth with Leslie East (centre) of the Musicians’ Company and
Chloe Harvey – daughter of Eddie Harvey looking on.
Photo credit Melody McLaren/Musicians’Company
(Readers inclined to skip this report and go straight to the complete, magnificent set of Melody McLaren’s photos of the event, look away now and go HERE)
It’s an interesting programming conundrum. The annual concert at which the Dankworth Awards for composition (two each year) and the Eddie Harvey Award for jazz arrangement gives the hosting institution, a conservatoire with a big band, about 20 minutes of music. So the question is what else to put with it. Last night the Royal Academy of Music found a deft solution: they combined it with their annual Jazz Composers’ Big Band concert. This is the event at which the cohort of fourth-year jazz undergraduates all have their final exam compositions performed. So the whole evening became a major celebration of the learning of the craft of composition.
These performances mark the culmination of the students’ composing activities in their four years at the Academy where they have the good fortune to find themselves under the guidance of a unique force in British music, Pete Churchill.
|Luke Bainbridge receiving the small band composition award
Dankworth Prizes 2018
Photo credit: Melody McLaren / Musicians’Company
So the concert presented a total of no fewer than 12 premieres, the three from the awards plus nine from the fourth-years. For the listener, that was a lot of previously unheard music to take in. The pieces written for the JCBB are written to be assessed and marked as part of the course, so it is understandable that in some pieces intricacy and complexity were to the fore. And in the Dukes Hall’s acoustic that will mean that some of that subtlety disappears straight off into the organ loft or behind the pictures on the walls, completely eluding us in the audience….
What stood out from this fast-moving conveyor belt of very different work? The opening of the concert, a piece by Oliver Mason, presented the kind of filmic drama and contrast that Colin Towns would have been proud of. Johnny Mansfield was exploring a folk-ish terrain, while Alastair Martin showed a liking for things busy and anarchic. Bassist Thomas Dring‘s piece JayDee, a ballad feature for Damon Oliver, rose to a full-blazing, vivid big band sound which reminded me of Darcy James Argue’s writing. Quinn Oulton already has his next step marked out as a participant in the Red Bull Music Academy and his piece, Fender Bender, stood out as the rockiest, getting properly stuck in to its central melodic idee fixe. Drummer Edward Dunlop‘s jaunty piece, Rip Riley, complete with a major role for sousaphone, presented a happily tight-yet-loose homage to New Orleans second line parades. It was an effective first half closer.
|L-R: Chloe Harvey, Eddie Harvey Award Winner James Brady,
Photo Credit: Melody McLaren
The speeches of the awards ceremony featured lovely memories of the wisdom and wit of Eddie Harvey. Then the performances of the three winning pieces got under way. The prize-winning small band piece by Luke Bainbridge had a tricky bass ostinato characterfully played by Daisy George. It is one of those pieces that definitely doesn’t reveal all its secrets on one performance. Billy Marrows‘ piece was a major composition on an ambitious scale, featuring a strong solo by Alexander Bone on soprano sax, and struck me above all with the characterful Englishness of its harmonies. James Brady‘s arrangement of Lush Life again was a piece on a large scale, and the tune-stating on baritone sax (Harry Greene) intertwined with a countermelody on bass trombone was particularly effective.
|Pete Churchill directing the band
Photo credit: Melody McLaren / Musicians’Company
The closing sequence of three brought some of the pieces that were easiest to follow and hearing them in sequence brought a rising tide of joy and affirmation. Thomas Gardner’s Changing Perspectives had a predilection for that rare effect, chords that each have crescendos in them. Daisy George‘s End of the Line held on to its optimistic tone very convincingly, and Tom Smith‘s gospelly The Light that Shines was pure joy – a remarkable chart.
The last two pieces brought to the fore the remarkable Antwerpenaar trombonist Nabou Claerhout. There was real star quality in her soloing: strong tone, strong line, real presence. She was trained in Rotterdam and has been a member of the Dutch NJJO. Randomly I note that Rotterdam was also responsible for training one of the classical trombone greats Jörgen van Rijen – whom by complete fluke the RAM has honoured this morning. Claerhout was a new name to me and is definitely one to watch out for.
It was good to witness the craft of composing so well celebrated and valued. The RAM and the Musicians’ Company deserve thanks and praise.
|Nabou Claerhout with Pete Churchill
Photo credit: Melody McLaren/Musicians’s Company
Oliver Mason: Boy Wonder
Jonathan Mansfeld: Tim Smoth’s (sic) Big Day Out
Alistair Martin :Summer Years
Thomas Dring: Jaydee
Quinn Oulton : Fender Bender
Edward Dunlop : Rip Riley
Billy Marrows : Scenes From the Underground
Luke Bainbridge : Crossing Styx
Billy Strayhorn arr James Brady : Lush Life
Thomas Gardner: Changing Perspectives
Daisy George : End of the Line
Thomas Smith: The Light That Shines
Academy Big Band
Conductor Pete Churchill
Saxophones: Alexander Bone, Jonathan Ford, Thomas Smith, Quinn Oulton. Harry Greene
Trumpets: Thomas Gardner, Alistair Martin, Alexandra Ridout, Laurence Wilkins
Trombone: Jamie Tweed, Harrison Maund, Seynabou Claerhout, Rory Ingham
Guitar: Oliver Mason
Piano: Edward Lee, Wilbur Whitta
Vibes: Jonathan Mansfeld
Drums: Edward Dunlop, Ildefons Alonso Valls
Bass: Daisy George, Thomas Dring
Vocals: Ella Hohnen Ford
Saxophones: Jonathan Ford, Thomas Smith, Damon Oliver, Harry Greene
Trumpet: Luke Vice-Coles
Trombone: Joel Knee
Bass: William Sach
Drums: Ildefons Alonso Valls
Piano/Director: Albert Palau