Town Hall, Birmingham
Back in the 1980s, Courtney Pine explained to a strong Town Hall turn-out, the Jazz Warriors was his chance to play with older, more established musicians. In their new Afropeans guise, Pine is now the old(er) guard and the young lions include trumpeter Mark Crown, cellist and singer Ayanna Witter-Johnson and clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings.
The band was formed primarily to honour the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, and, as its title suggests, brings together all the musical influences felt by Europeans of African origin.
They opened with a blast – Abolition Day – and a reminder that surely there is no more exhilarating sound than a big-band brass section in tight harmony. It’s the thing that gives me goose bumps every time.
Pianist Alex Wilson was spectacular on his own arrangement of a Malian song, called Remercier Les Travelleurs, in which he not only brought in his characteristic Latin piano style but also emulated the cascading arpeggios of the West African harp, the kora.
Black Flag began with a winning and unusual combination of timbres: the bass clarinet of Courtney and the steel pans of Samuel Dubois. From there it grew in lengthy solos by trumpeter Colin Graham and trombonist Trevor Edwards, the latter to a ska rhythm, and each ending in brass section cacophony.
It was a clear intention to give the young warriors their solo spots, but in the case of Witter-Johnson’s song and Mark Crown’s tribute to the late Freddie Hubbard, these sat uneasily in the programme. Hutchings fared much better – his composition, Joyous, was, for me, the highlight of the evening. He built it from a lyrical beginning to a virtuosic solo cadenza.
A chilling reminder of the band’s original impetus came in a final piece for vocal and rattled chains. The encore had the audience on its feet and clapping along.