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Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu Orchestra


by Ian Mann

August 30, 2018


Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience. Despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Bansangu Orchestra

“Bansangu Orchestra”

(Pathway Records PBCD0121)

Bansangu Orchestra is a large ensemble that was founded in 2014 by saxophonist Paul Booth, guitarist Giorgio Serci and trumpeter Kevin Robinson, all well known figures on the UK music scene. Serci was the guitarist with Booth’s recent international jazz ensemble Patchwork Project and it’s tempting to think of Bansangu as the logical extension of this, but scaled up to big band / orchestral proportions. Bansangu members Davide Mantovani (bass) and Satin Singh (percussion) were also members of the earlier, smaller group.

That said Bansangu Orchestra is ultimately a more democratic unit with several members of the ensemble contributing to the compositional and arranging processes. However it’s Booth, the band’s musical director and the composer of two of the album’s nine pieces, who emerges as the Orchestra’s de facto leader.

The Bansangu name is derived from a saying by the highly respected and influential Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira who would compliment his band mates with the phrase “Ban San Goo”, meaning “Band Sounds Good!”.

Under Booth’s directorship the Bansangu Orchestra line up as follows;

Paul Booth – tenor & soprano sax, flutes, accordion, melodica, percussion, voice, keyboards

Sammy Mayne – alto sax, flute
Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax
Richard Beesley- tenor sax, clarinet
Gemma Moore – baritone sax,  bass clarinet

Ryan Quigley – trumpet & flugelhorn
Shanti Paul Jayasinha – trumpet & flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Robinson – trumpet & flugelhorn (1,4,6,7,9)
Andy Greenwood _ trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,5,8)

Barnaby Dickinson – trombone
Trevor Mires – trombone, pedal effects (1,2,4,5,6,7,9)
Robbie Harvey – trombone (3,4,6,7,9)
Martin Gladdish – trombone (2,3,5,8)
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

Giorgio Serci – guitar, oud
Alex Wilson – piano (except 4)
Davide Mantovani- electric bass
Satin Singh – percussion (1,2,5,6,7,8)
Edwin Sanz – percussion (3)
Rod Youngs – drums (1,4,6,7,9)
Tristan Banks – drums (2,3,5,8)


Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals (4)

Jonathan Meyer – sitar (2)

Seckou Keita – kora (6)

The album’s liner notes include brief anecdotes from the individual composers giving something of an insight into the inspiration behind each tune. First up is Booth’s “Cross Channel”, a two part composition with the first instalment inspired by a visit to Lebanon and the rhythms that he heard there. Part two explores rhythms more closely associated with the Afro-Cuban tradition and introduces a new, angular melody. The piece is introduced by Serci on unaccompanied oud, who helps to establish an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Fishwick’s trumpet then probes intelligently above the rhythmic undertow established by Serci in conjunction with Singh, Youngs and Mantovani. As the piece develops dense Western harmonies are introduced and the music takes on an authentic big band feel before Booth, on tenor sax, emerges as the second featured soloist. His contribution is typically assured, intelligent and fluent. Wilson’s piano plays an increasingly important role in the second half of the piece which also includes a dynamic drum feature for Youngs.  Simultaneously intelligent and invigorating Booth’s kaleidoscopic composition gets the album off to an excellent start.

Bansangu’s début takes its listenership on something of a world tour. Next up is a visit to India with “The Long Road”, written by Jayasinha and featuring guest Jonathan Mayer on sitar. The composer makes effective use of the colours and timbres available to him in the Bansangu line up with Moore’s bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement. Mayer’s sitar evokes memories of the “Indo-Jazz Fusions” pioneered by his father John Mayer and continued by Jonathan. Here Mayer’s dialogue with Yarde’s soprano sax is particularly engaging, while Singh’s tablas also add an element of Eastern exotica to the arrangement.

Pianist Alex Wilson is an acknowledged master of Latin American musical styles and has recorded a number of albums under his own name exploring various aspects of the genre and sometimes blending it with jazz, African and Caribbean elements. Wilson was also part of Booth’s Patchwork Project and is the ideal pianist for the globe-trotting Bansangu Orchestra.
Wilson’s “Currulao Cool” was originally for a small group and the pianist jumped at the opportunity of arranging it for a large ensemble and describes the piece as “an exploration of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian music tradition in a jazz context.” Specialist Latin percussionist Edwin Sanz is drafted in to provide the authentic currulao percussion that both drives the tune and gives it its title.
Jayasinha’s flugel solo is relaxed, breezy, colourful and fluent and stretches further into the instrument’s upper register as his feature progresses. He is complemented by some rousing big band charts in the first section of this lengthy piece, Next we hear a virtuoso passage of solo piano from Wilson that demonstrates his thorough knowledge of Latin American piano styles. Finally we are treated to a vibrantly colourful,  high energy, big band climax.

The album’s only vocal item features the singer and pianist Oli Rockberger singing his own song “My Old Life”. Rockberger has recorded a series of albums for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label and this piece is sourced from his 2017 album “Sovereign”. Like Wilson Rockberger relished the chance to have his composition recorded by a large ensemble, in this case in an arrangement by Paul Booth. Rockberger speaks of the combination of “power and finesses” in Booth’s arrangement,  and it’s true that the music serves Rockberger’s singing and songwriting well. The song, with its theme of nostalgia, combines wistfulness with a hipster-ish world-weariness and includes winning instrumental solos from Quigley on trumpet and Rockberger himself on piano.

“Takes Three to Samba” was the first piece written specifically for the Bansangu Orchestra and comes from the pen of guitarist Serci. In his notes the composer tells of how he first met Booth when the pair were part of the touring band of the Polish singer and songwriter Basia. Their shared passion for arranging led to the dream of founding a “world music orchestra”, this leading to the formation of Bansangu. Written on the Basia tour bus Serci describes his piece as being “a samba in ¾ and it features poly-chords and poly-rhythms”. Led off by the composer’s guitar it’s a vibrant piece full of colourful horn arrangements and suitably exotic rhythms. Mires leads off the solos with a rousing trombone feature and he’s followed by the composer with an agile guitar solo featuring slippery runs and choppy chords. Drummer Tristan Banks is also featured in what sounds like a percussive stand off with Satin Singh. Booth may well be involved as well!

The tune “Choice Is Yours” was originally written by the Orchestra’s Italian born bassist Davide Mantovani and originally appeared on his solo album “Choices”, released in 2012 and reviewed by the Jazzmann here;
The “Choices” album featured Booth and it was the saxophonist who suggested to Mantovani that he arranged “Choice Is Yours” for Bansangu. The original recording featured kora soloist Madou Sidiki and that role is taken here by Seckou Keita. In this new arrangement it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the different string sounds of soloists Keita on kora and Serci on guitar. The other featured soloist, perhaps appropriately, is Booth himself on tenor sax.

Next up is co-founder Kevin Robinson’s arrangement of the Doors song “Light My Fire”. The trumpeter’s arrangement is inspired by the Jose Feliciano version of 1968 and Robinson first adapted it for performance by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars circa 2002. It has now undergone a further transformation in the hands of Bansangu. Robinson has given the piece a distinctive ska / reggae groove with Moore’s baritone initially prominent in the arrangement. It’s a delightfully joyous and vibrant interpretation enlivened by punchy horn arrangements and a searing alto solo from Sammy Mayne, plus an exuberant piano solo from the irrepressible Alex Wilson. It’s a great version of the tune, and one that rescues it from the cheesiness of the cabaret circuit.

Booth’s “The Village” explores the world of Celtic folk music, an area not frequently investigated in the big band format. The composer features his own accordion and flute in the arrangement but the instrumental honours go to Barnaby Dickinson with a thrillingly virtuosic trombone solo that demonstrates his extraordinary agility on the instrument. There are some thrilling ensemble passages too that are sometimes reminiscent of something that Salsa Celtica might have attempted.

The album concludes with “The Reason”, written by trombonist Trevor Mires, a stirring example of contemporary big band jazz with a strong funk undertow. The composer opens the soloing, subtly mutating the sound of his trombone via an effects pedal. Drummer Rod Youngs is also featured as is the supremely versatile Wilson at the piano.

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience as the band throw Lebanese, Cuban, Indian, Colombian, Brazilian, West African, Jamaican and Celtic elements into the mix, alongside plenty of actual, proper jazz. Yet, despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Booth rightly praises his the versatility of his fellow musicians and one suspects that witnessing Bansangu live would be a highly stimulating and exciting experience. Listeners in the South East will get the chance to see the band when they launch the CD at on Friday September 21st 2018 as part of the Margate Jazz Weekend.

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