Live review

REVIEW: Stan Sulzmann Neon Orchestra at the Purcell Room (2018 EFG LJF)

Stan Sulzmann (centre) with Alex Munk (L) and
Johhny Mansfield (R)
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow

Stan Sulzmann Neon Orchestra
(Purcell Room, South Bank Centre. 22 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There are two stories that need telling as Stan Sulzmann‘s 20-piece Neon Orchestra does four concerts in celebration of his 70th birthday, of which this London Jazz Festival concert was the opening night. The first story is the easier and more obvious one: that Stan is a pivotal, central figure in British jazz. The sheer number of musicians on our scene who have been mentored and brought on by him, who have been “given permission to be themselves”, is vast. So this was, understandably and unavoidably,  a concert where the sense of gratitude and respect in the room was palpable.

But there’s the second story, and that’s about the sheer persuasiveness, quality, craft, and uplift that is all there in his music for jazz orchestra. One of his life philosophies is that you should keep on going, keep on trying and you never know where it is going to lead you. And that comes through in an compositional manner where there are always lines that are simultaneously leading somewhere, where melodies always have their counter-melodies. It’s never crowded or unclear, just always full of the sense that this is a collaborative craft. It is celebratory music in the same way that Haydn’s Creation is a celebration. It has a heart, and is never overbearing.

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Nikki Iles and Alex Munk
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow

Last night’s programme showed how his catalogue of works has grown. I was particularly taken by some of the charts in second half. A re-working of the sixties Bacharach tune You’ll Never Get To Heaven, a tribute to the late Steve Gray, feels like a masterpiece, as does an arrangement of Between Moons by John Taylor, its sinuous melody echoing the standard If I Should Lose You. Stan Sulzmann introduced it with his typical modesty, stating that he has never established exactly why Taylor should have approached him to do the arrangement.

Neon Orchestra
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow

And on the subject of John Taylor, visitors to these concerts should make a point of  visiting the merch. stall, which has the classic Birthdays Birthdays album on CD, and also vinyl of Everybody’s Song But My Own from the duo of Sulzmann and Taylor.

Reflective: Stan Sulzmann
Photo credit: Paul Wood

LINK: Full band personnel and tour dates are in Peter Bacon’s tour preview

Categories: Live review

1 reply »

  1. A perfect summary of a special evening of Jazz. The room was filled with warmth, honesty and a celebration of the uniting spirit and togetherness of orchestral music. An example of what we're increasingly missing in other walks of life where it would be desperately needed.
    Thanks, Stan Sulzmann, Nick Smart and everybody on the band stand, for showing how it's done…

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