Beats & Pieces Big Band
(Symphony Hall, Birmingham. 8 February 2023. Review and photos by John Watson)
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A second night of big band jazz brought more joy to fans of large ensembles in Birmingham. Following the concert by the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra on Tuesday, promoters B:Music combined with TDE Promotions to bring the vibrant Manchester-based Beats & Pieces Big Band to Symphony Hall the next night.
Directed by guitarist, composer and arranger Ben Cottrell, the band is on a tour to promote its third album, Good Days (Efpi Records), and they appeared – after two nights at Ronnie Scott’s – in Symphony Hall’s new performance room, the Jennifer Blackwell Space.
The band’s decision to use the flexible space to play “in the round” was an excellent one. “This is how we rehearse,” explained Ben. And he encouraged the audience to move around the band if they wished to do so, to hear the music from different angles.
I first heard this splendidly vibrant band in its early days at the Sage concert hall during the Gateshead Jazz Festival – and what a memorably joyful performance that was. It followed their award for the best young artists in the 2011 Burghausen Festival in Germany, and since then they have gone on to make some very stimulating recordings. As you would expect with a young ensemble, Beats & Pieces mix adventurous big band concepts with elements of popular music, including influences from Radiohead and singer Bjork. The result is often harmonically captivating, and delivered with immense drive.
The tune titles are expressed in lower case letters on the album, and they opened their Symphony Hall concert with pop, featuring Nick Walters on trumpet, followed by rain, with an excellent arpeggio-rich piano solo from Richard Jones. The pianist also featured on the following tune, toan, along with soprano saxophonist Anthony Brown, concluding with the three-man trombone section – Joe Carnell, George Hardwick and Rich Mcveigh – in a wild workout. Trumpeter Graham South soloed with great intensity on time, and (blues for) linu. Altoist Oliver Dover was outstanding on db, and also featured on the concluding piece hendo. The whole performance benefitted from really dynamic drum work from Finlay Panter, combining with bassist Stewart Wilson to strongly underpin often complex ensemble work.
On Thursday (9 Feb) Beats & Pieces appear at the Band On The Wall, Manchester.
Symphony Hall wraps up its current series of big band celebrations on Friday (10 Feb) with an appearance by the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra, in a 5pm show, also in the Jennifer Blackwell Space.