CD review: Reuben Fowler

between shadowsBetween Shadows
(Edition Records EDN1042)

With all the young musicians coming out of the British jazz colleges and conservatoires these days I suppose it was natural that band leaders would want to use as many of their contemporaries as possible. Whatever the reason, the resurgence of the big band – or perhaps the term jazz orchestra is more appropriate these days – is certainly very welcome.

Trumpeter and composer Reuben Fowler, born in Wakefield, educated at the Royal Academy in London, has not only assembled a fine large band of young players (it includes Percy Pursglove from Birmingham), he has also attracted some special guests -  US trumpeter Tom Harrell, saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and vibes player Jim Hart – and has Guy Barker to conduct the whole thing.

The album opens with Too Minor, by the late Richard Turner, and it’s immediately clear that this is an extraordinarily accomplished debut. The band sounds glorious – and gloriously recorded – and, most importantly, has real character.

And Fowler’s own compositions have great strength, too. The writing might have some Kenny Wheeler, Gil Evans and Maria Schneider influences, but it all sounds fresh and forceful. There is that jazz orchestra programmatic subtlety, but also real big band punch.

Try Dundry (For JBG), the JBG in question being alto saxophonist James Gardiner Bateman who rounds off the track’s solos in storming form. And this is after solos from his more experienced colleagues Hart and Harrell, both sounding terrific. They all do their thing over a particularly funky rhythm figure led by guitarist James Munk.

Throughout, the harmonies in the horns are bright and shiny and the flow from ensemble to solo and back is mainly smooth. I’m not sure the arrangement of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is quite up to those of the originals, and I prefer the wordless vocal (in Schneider or Metheny style) of Guillermo Rozenthuler in The Lost to the lyric singing of Brigitte Beraha on The Lost And The Found, but only because the words are little cliched – there’s nothing wrong with the singing.

Overall it’s a great listen, and an outstanding example of the high quality jazz being made in Britain today by a mainly youthful bunch of players. Notable contributions from Jim Hart, Stan Sulzmann, Fowler himself on flugel in The Lost And The Found, but particularly from Gardiner Bateman, who has such a rich tone that you’d swear it was a tenor half the time.

Clearly Fowler is a leader to watch, and this is a band to catch whenever you can.

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