CD review

CD REVIEW: Bansangu Orchestra – Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu Orchestra – Bansangu Orchestra
(Pathway Records – PBCD 0121. CD Review by Jane Mann)

Bansangu Orchestra was formed in 2014 by English saxophonist Paul Booth with Sardinian guitarist/oud player Giorgio Serci and English trumpeter Kevin Robinson. Some four years later, here is their debut album, and it is as exciting as you might imagine given the diverse musical backgrounds of the three main movers and the wealth of talent in this huge band.

The CD consists of nine pieces, all by members of this stellar ensemble, including two by Booth, one by Serci as well as a magnificent arrangement of The Doors’ Light My Fire by Robinson.  (The astonishing line up of some of London’s finest musicians – twenty four of them including guest stars, can be seen below.)  There is so much crossover in the individual music histories here – who has played with whom, who has learned from whom, who did their apprenticeships in which great jazz bands, who influenced whom. It would be fascinating to see a Bansangu members family tree.

The whole project feels to me like a happy return to the heady days of the 1990s when there was a bit of a British jazz resurgence. A number of fantastic young groups, formed or inspired by members of ground breaking bands Tomorrow’s Warriors and Loose Tubes were mixing it up and playing all over the country. The choice of local band members to be picked up by visiting overseas jazz luminaries and homegrown big band leaders expanded wonderfully at this time. Robinson himself was one of those key figures, playing with Tomorrow’s Warriors, with Andy Sheppard, with the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, as well as many visiting jazz superstars including Hermeto Pascoal and Carla Bley. In the background he continued to arrange music, and also play with a variety of pop stars. Those glory days, when big band music expanded to include even more influences from other traditions, continues here on this album – Booth’s outfit draws on Brazilian, African, Caribbean, Indian, Cuban, European and Middle Eastern musics.

And how exhilarating it is! Sri-Lankan born Londoner Shanti Paul Jayasinha’s composition The Long Road features a duet of great beauty between sitar (Jonathan Mayer) and soprano sax (Jason Yarde), an unusual pairing to my ears. Jayasinha says in the liner notes for his piece: “The instrumental colours available in Bansangu are inspiring, from warm brass to all the varied timbres of the woodwind and world percussion…”, and so it would seem to be.

Another showstopper is Currulao Cool written by Derbyshire-born Alex Wilson, a virtuoso pianist, famed for his Latin jazz prowess. It features Jayasinha giving us his trademark mellifluous flugelhorn sound, and some extraordinarily powerful piano playing from Wilson.

Booth, the musical director of the orchestra, gives us an unusual composition, The Village, which begins with a Zappaish but Celtic-sounding melody on flutes, accordion and soprano sax, which then develops into the Bansangu wall of horns and a trombone solo by Barnaby Dickinson.

Sercis contributes the splendidly happy Takes Three To Samba, densely chorded and richly textured, with a terrific trombone solo from Trevor Mires. It was the first tune written for Bansangu, apparently composed and arranged by Sercis on a five journey on a tour bus.

This is a striking CD. All the musicians appear to be on top form, and the arrangements and direction are top notch. There is a driving joyous quality to the Bansangu sound which reminds me at times of Andy Sheppard’s big band work in the 1990s, like Soft On The Inside. This is absolutely a band to hear live too, and fortunately you can. The album launch is on Friday 21st September at the Margate Jazz Weekend.

Incidentally, according to Booth, the name of the orchestra comes from “the compliment Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira would pay his band in English: “ban san goo” meaning “band sounds good”. This band sounds good to me.

Track Listing:
1. Cross Channel
2. The Long Road (ft. Jonathan Mayer)
3. Currulao Cool
4. My Old Life (ft. Oli Rockberger)
5. Takes Three To Samba
6. Choice Is Yours (ft. Seckou Keita)
7. Light My Fire
8. The Village
9. The Reason

Bansangu Orchestra personnel:
Reeds: Paul Booth, Sammy Mayne, Jason Yarde, Richard Beesley, Gemma Moore
Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Kevin Robinson, Andy Greenwood, Shanti Paul Jayasinha, Steve Fishwick
Trombones: Trevor Mires, Barnaby Dickinson, Robbie Harvey, Martin Gladdish
Bass trombone/Tuba: Richard Henry
Guitar/oud: Giorgio Serci
Piano: Alex Wilson
Electric bass: Davide Mantovani
Drums/Percussion: Rod Youngs, Tristan Banks, Satin Singh
And special guests: Jonathan Mayer – sitar, Seckou Keita – kora, Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals

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