Birmingham Jazz Orchestra directed by Sean Gibbs – Burns

burns(Sean Gibbs)

Well, this is exciting! The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra was founded last autumn, its aim “to showcase the composing and improvising talents of players from the Birmingham scene and beyond”.

Its first outing has Edinburgh-born trumpeter/composer/arranger Sean Gibbs at the helm with a suite of five pieces he has written inspired by the poems of his illustrious countryman, Robert Burns. He doesn’t play trumpet here, but instead is the man standing in front, directing his music.

So, jazz and Robert Burns? The skirl of the pipes and twee Celtic folk filtered through a brass section, you’re thinking? I am delighted to report that you couldn’t be further from the truth.

The album opens with full-on, blues-tinged electric guitar from Ben Lee over riffy horns and a bubbling beat, gives way to a melody that owes more to classic American big band swing than it does to the Highland pipes, and then opens out into a burning solo from Lee. And then, just when you think it’s about to end, the whole thing takes a fresh turn with a new brass riff, a new twist to the beat and another character-filled solo from that most unmistakeable of Birmingham saxophonists, Lluis Mather. And that’s Tam O’Shanter.

Love In The Guise Of Friendship begins more gently and ends in the same way, with David Ferris‘s piano. The horns are more atmospheric and “jazz orchestra-ish” (as opposed to “big band-ish”), providing a lush cushion for Richard Foote‘s trombone solo. But in the middle of it the band kicks into a different, more Latin groove, for Elliot Drew to solo on alto.

Sean Gibbs directing the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra (Photo © Iza Korsak)

Sean Gibbs directing the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra (Photo © Iza Korsak)

Nature’s Law is a really big-band cooker, with tight grooving from Stuart Barker on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums, bouncy brass charts, a punchy, flowing trumpet solo from Nick Dewhurst, and one of those bits of extended saxophone writing that just gets the heart swelling and the crowd on its feet cheering along. It’s followed by further simmering solos from Ferris and Lee.

To A Mountain Daisy cools the pace once more and gives the reeds a woodwind sound, topped by Josie Wilkin‘s flute. There are mists of the late Kenny Wheeler playing about the edges of this one, not only in the melody and harmony but in Hugh Pascall‘s horn solo; then the mood lightens for Dan Searjeant‘s alto. What a treat for these soloists having those accompanying riches behind them to widen the harmonies and fire the emotional inspiration! Searjeant takes flight as a result.

Address To A Toothache is the closer, with just one solo from the ever-resourcefull Ferris and lots more lovely section work from the whole band.

There may be just 36 minutes of music on this disc but such is wealth of ideas that Sean Gibbs packs in and so rewarding are the performances from his band and its soloists that it feels like a substantially larger artistic package.

There are so many things to like here including that energy and good humour, that ebullience, that is the hallmark of the young Birmingham jazz scene; the way Sean has encouraged stretching performances not only from his fellow BC recent grads but also from more seasoned players like Mather; and the terrific music that Sean has written which changes within each piece to give bespoke settings for each solo and considerable satisfaction to all the section players.

Then there is the fact that the existence of Birmingham Jazz Orchestra should encourage other composers in the city to write for them. BJO could become a major cultural vehicle not only for the players, composers and arrangers in this city but for the city itself – on the strength of this first album it certainly deserves a bright and busy future.

The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra on this session comprised: saxophone: Elliot Drew, Dan Searjeant, John Fleming, Lluis Mather, Alicia Gardener-Trejo; trumpet/flugelhorn: Tom Syson, Hugh Pascall, Nick Dewhurst, Mike Adlington; trombone: Richard Foote, Tom Dunett, David Sear, Andrew Clennell; rhythm: Ben Lee, David Ferris, Stuart Barker, Jonathan Silk. On To A Mountain Daisy, add Josie Wilkin on flute.

  • To get your copy of Sean Gibbs and BJO’s Burns, go to Sean’s website here.
  • To hear the BJO directed by Sean playing this music live go to The Ent Shed in Bedford tomorrow night at 8.30pm or The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, Birmingham, next Tuesday, 11 August, at 9pm.


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