Live review

The Dankworth and Harvey Awards Concert 2020 (winners Alex Paxton, Tom Niblock, Eddie Lee)

The Dankworth and Harvey Awards Concert 2020
(Milton Court. 5 November 2020. Report from the livestream by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Scott Stroman directing the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra (screengrab)

The Guildhall Jazz Orchestra conducted by Scott Stroman performed the winning pieces in the annual John Dankworth Awards for Big Band and Small Ensemble Compositions, and also the Eddie Harvey Award for Arrangers.

First up was Bye composed by Alex Paxton, winner of the Dankworth Small Ensemble Award.  Bye is written for a 9-piece ensemble and is an intriguing mix of contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music.  In the interval interview Alex described the music as ‘minimalism with more notes’  and I find this slightly ironic description captures something of the movement between the different strands of his music.  The piece starts slowly clearly in minimalist territory, but then through muted solos on trombone adds a flavour of Duke Ellington’s music.  In the interview Alex also talked of how he had based the piece on a single idea; that comes across in the way the theme gradually builds up in intensity before winding down to reach a gentle conclusion.  Alex mentioned that he is a trombonist and usually plays on the piece over which he enjoys improvising; on this occasion the trombone solo was taken by Felix Fardell.  Alex also mentioned that he is keen to create an improvisatory feel in his music that is similar to that in Grayson Perry’s tapestries.  I didn’t know Alex’s music and look forward to hearing more.

Alex Paxton, Tom Niblock and representatives of the Musicians’ Company (screengrab)

I do know the music of Tom Niblock, a saxophonist and composer who studied on the jazz course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  Tom has won the Harvey Arranger’s Award for his arrangement for big band of Berlin, a small group piece written by pianist and fellow Birmingham graduate Olly Chalk while the latter was studying in Germany’s capital.  Tom has also studied in Berlin and his arrangement draws on his experience there and pays tribute to a great jazz city.  It is a joyous piece full of energy and interesting changes of direction.  It has a brassy feel which reminded me of Mike Gibbs’ writing.  Nicely coherent solos by Will Rees-Jones on the alto sax and  Adriano Moncada on guitar led into a final section full of varied textures.

Aitziber Cofre Real

The Dankworth Big Band Award went to Eddie Lee, a student at Royal Academy of Music, for his piece Dean inspired by the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road. In his interview he talked of how the piece has three sections reflecting the book and Dean Moriarty’s life: Naive Youth, then Confusion and finally Status as a Hero. Knowing that the music follows this narrative helped immensely in following the development of the music and to appreciate its different moods.  It features vocalist Aitziber Cofre Real, originally from Stuttgart, who was particularly effective in integrating her wordless singing with the ensemble in the passage about Confusion.  Pianist John Wilson made an impressive contribution throughout the piece.

The programme also contained two pieces by luminaries of the art of writing for jazz orchestra, Vince Mendoza’s “Homecoming”, which was the centrepiece of a 2017 suite originally written for the WDR Big Band, and “Hang Gliding” from Maria Schneider’s 2000 album Allégresse.

The main event of the latter half of the programme was the eight-part Tarantula Suite for soprano saxophone and big band by the eminent Swedish saxophonist, composer and educator Cennet Jönsson. “Eight different moods”, as Scott Stroman described it in his short introduction, and a wide expressive range from the joyous expansive breadth of the opening, to movements of intense and restless energy, and even a moment when Scott Stroman’s multi-tasking extended to a moment in which he was wordless vocalising in duet with Aitziber Cofre Real, while simultaneously directing the band through jaunty off-kilter rhythms.

The awards are administered and funded by The Musicians’ Company with the support of The Wavendon Foundation and friends and family of Eddie Harvey. With thanks to Scott Stroman and Barry Green for their help in producing this piece.

The video of the concert is available until 13th November at THIS LINK

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