Live reviews

Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra at Ronnie Scott’s

Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra

(Ronnie Scott’s. 6 March 2022. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

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Nikki Iles. Photo credit: Robert Crowley

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra’s “Face to Face” tour was originally planned to take place in 2020. It has… finally…reached its joyous conclusion.

Every musician on stage seemed to not just to be proving at every moment a deep belief in this music and in the emotions and the stories it can express and convey, but also a singularly deep understanding every of bit of its character, its completely compelling sense of flow, and the craft behind it. There were, after all a significant proportion of the band who run and write for their own large ensembles.

The programme was also unfailingly generous in its acknowledgement of, and gratitude for other influential arrangers. The majority of the pieces are Iles’ own recent repertoire and series of commissions, but she also clearly venerates the craft of others: Vince Mendoza, Fred Sturm, Steve Gray and Stan Sulzmann were all saluted and honoured in different ways.

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra. Photo credit: Robert Crowley

My LJN colleague Mike Collins has done a superb job chronicling performances this band – links to their official first concert in 2018 at the Vortex, and their November 2021 are below. He wrote last year of “a sound and repertoire that weaves together so many musical threads.” The idea definitely resonated on Sunday night. As John Fordham’s feature previewing this concert points out, Nikki Iles’ major focus on large ensemble might be relatively recent, but the roots of it go back a long way, and the presence on stage of musicians who have been colleagues ever since the days of the Creative Jazz Orchestra such as Mike Walker and Andy Schofield underline that sense of strong continuity.

Those different creative threads are everywhere. Iles is just as authentic when summoning up the English folk tradition – and the folk-rock iteration of it – in “Highlands” as she is when evoking Geri Allen’s Detroit/Motown roots.

L-R: Mike Walker with Steve Watts, Ian Thomas, Karen Sharp. Photo credit: Robert Crowley

Inspiration is a two-way process. Nikki Iles thanked the musicians who. with their “different personalities to make my music come to life.” In a sense that is to be expected, because to a considerable extent she has written it to be played by them. The solo features, written for and dedicated to two great figures of our scene, trumpeter Henry Lowther and trombonist Gordon Campbell,

The list of all participants, from several generations, is below, but it is impossible not to single out the contribution of guitarist Mike Walker, and the photo above by Robert Crowley somehow catches his role of provoking, of suddenly taking the band to a different place.

Perhaps the most abiding impression from Sunday night’s last concert is that the absolutely the right people were there to play it. Concerts should always have the sense of a very special occasion; this one did.

Nikki Iles. Photo credit: Robert Crowley/ Ronnie Scott’s


Wild Oak – for Geri Allen (solo: Andy Schofield)

Gray as the morning – (for Steve Gray) (soloists: Gareth Lockrane, Paul Jones, Olli Martin

Hush: soloists Tori Freestone, Mike Walker)

Face to Face (for Henry Lowther / soloist)

Hero with a Thousand Faces (Vince Mendoza) (solos: Mike Walker, Julian Siegel)


Red Ellen (solo: Nick Smart)

The Caged Bird (Solos Andy Schofield, Karen Sharp)

(Solos: Andy Schofield, Nikki Iles)

Flatlands (solo: Gordon Campbell)

Awakenings (solos: James Copus (Flugelhorn), Harry Maund

Do it again (Fagen/Becker, arr. Fred Sturm) (solod Gareth Lockrane, Mike Walker, Julian Siegel)

Encore: Highlands (solos: James Copus, Harry Maund)

The trumpet section L-R Henry Lowther, Tom Walsh, James Copus, Nick Smart. Photo credit: Robert Crowley


Nikki Iles (piano/ composition), Steve Watts (bass), Ian Thomas (drums), Mike Walker (guitar)

Harry Maund, Olli Martin, Gordon Campbell, Richard Henry

Henry Lowther, Tom Walsh (lead), James Copus, Nick Smart

Wind/ Reeds: Gareth Lockrane, Andy Schofield, Paul Jones, Julian Siegel, Tori Freestone, Karen Sharp

Sound: Paul Sparrow

LINKS: Review of the Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra’s first concert in 2018

Review from the 2021 LJF

Preview/ profile by John Fordham

Categories: Live reviews

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