CD reviews in brief: Callum Au Big Band, Sean Nowell, Kai Hoffman, The Weave

auCallum Au Big Band Something’s Coming (CABBCD001): A tight and exuberant outift making music to suit the old-school big band fans while giving it enough freshness and pizzazz to appeal to – well nearly everybody really. But then how could a big band led by a trombonist not be likeable? It’s a West Side Story programme with a trio of other tunes, including one by Au himself, and he has also arranged the Bernsteins – nothing too radical here but it all works just fine. Among the soloists are tenor saxophonist Tommy Laurence  and trumpeter Freddie Gravita, and guests include flautist Gareth Lockrane and alto saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock. Emma Smith and Iain Mackenzie contribute vocals.

nowellSean Nowell The Kung-Fu Masters (Posi-Tone PR8106): Nowell is a tenor player from Birmingham, but not the one near me, the one in Alabama. That background gives him jazz chops, gospel soul and a funky rhythmic sense, and he uses them to good effect with a three-horn front line and double keyboards, bass and drums. All the tunes are his own with the exception of the opener, a full-throttle ride through Jimi Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic. If there’s one criticism it’s that this album doesn’t let up for long, which can get a little exhausting for the listener. Track 6, Prosperity does provide some mellowish respite, but even here Nowell can’t resist the urge to turn up the heat. Exhilarating in a word.

hoffmanKai Hoffman Do It While You Can (Broad Reach Records BRKH001): Hoffman has a sexy Marilyn Monroe meets kooky Keely Smith vintage appeal and is probably a great front-woman for a swing band in live performance. On record that image doesn’t come across quite so strongly because her voice doesn’t really have enough character. She is in good company, though, with Geoff Gascoyne on bass, Sebastiaan de Krom on drums and Gunther Kurmayr on piano. If we had Kai to look at we might not notice that she sometimes has trouble hitting the note dead centre. But we haven’t so we do.

weaveThe Weave (THEWEAVE3): A bunch of musicians from Liverpool led by trumpeter Martin Smith. In fact the band has two trumpeters along with piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion. Thou Spak A Mouthful boasts a funky head and pattern for Smith, guitarist Anthony Ormesher and pianist Rob Stringer to solo over, and the double trumpet harmonies are cool and warm at the same time. The Ballad OF Bernard Swimmins features not only a catchy melody line but also a quirky narration written and delivered by Simon James which takes in such topics as Maurice Chevalier, a 15-minute Mellotron solo, and the song Cry Me A River. Nice.

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