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Beats & Pieces Big Band

Beats & Pieces


by Ian Mann

April 04, 2010

/ EP

Exciting, highly contemporary big band jazz and beyond from the cream of Manchester's young musicians.

The Beats & Pieces Big Band is a sixteen piece ensemble comprised of some of Manchester’s finest young musicians. Their début recording is an EP containing five compositions by the band’s non playing musical director Ben Cottrell. The EP clocks in at around half an hours worth of music and appears on the Manchester based independent label Efpi. It comes packaged in a cool, handmade cardboard sleeve made entirely from recycled materials. The packaging is significant, it emphasises the DIY, almost punk, ethos of the project and the fiery nature of much of the playing reflects that. This is a very modern large ensemble that incorporates electronics into it’s music courtesy of guest electronics artist George Dennis as well as giving electric guitarist Anton Hunter plenty of room in which to cut loose.

The band’s website acknowledges influences from bands at the cutting edge of British jazz including Polar Bear, Troyka, Led Bib and the Matthew Herbert Big Band as well as those from rather more orthodox large ensembles such as the jazz orchestras of Colin Towns and Maria Schneider. Throw the Beatles, Radiohead and Bjork into the mix and you have some idea of where the band are coming from. Older listeners like myself might draw parallels with the anarchic spirit of the seminal 1980s big band Loose Tubes. Yes, Beats & Pieces is no polite youth jazz orchestra and this EP is an invigorating and often surprising listen. 

The band roar out of the blocks with the turbo charged “Bake”, a funky affair with rock guitar, solid drumming from Finlay Panter and a crazed Rhodes solo from Patrick Hurley. The massed horns make an authentically big sound and we get to hear from featured saxophonist Sam Healey who turns in a powerful, impassioned alto solo. Finally Panter is given license to roam as he thunders around his kit in a late drum feature. Dennis adds judicious electronic embellishment.

“Yafw (part iii) tones things down a little and is more impressionistic with trumpeter Nick Walters the featured soloist. In the main though it’s still pretty lively stuff with some stirring modern big band charts.

“Toan” opens with Hurley on solo acoustic piano before the band kick in picking up on Hurley’s odd meter piano vamp. There’s an element of klezmer about the ensemble playing before Healey turns in another barnstorming alto solo. This piece is a real roller coaster ride and next up is an engaging dialogue between the Graham South on trumpet and Simon Lodge on trombone. Finally the whole band takes things storming out in belligerent manner.

The energy levels don’t flag with “Djimi” which features the clangorous guitar of Hunter alongside the dynamic, pure toned trumpeting of Chris Snead. Panter deploys rock rhythms almost throughout and Hunter wigs out with an extended solo before electric bassist Nick Blacka provides the bridge into another lively Rhodes solo from Hurley.

To close “Broken” demonstrates that the band aren’t just about sound and fury. This impressionistic piece sees the returns of Dennis’ electronica on the intro and also features the treated vocals of Esther Swift. Here the Bjork reference at last makes sense and the overall mood is towards the fey and melancholy. However there are still some muscular ensemble passages and a powerful solo from tenor saxophonist Sam Andreae.

Beats & Pieces are an exciting and dynamic young band who combine elements of jazz, rock and funk whilst managing to avoid all the clichés. In the main their sound is raw and urgent and unmistakably contemporary. I certainly enjoyed their music hugely and there is the potential for even better things to come in the future. Even now I’d wager that they’re a pretty formidable and exciting live act.

Whether the band can continue to grow and prosper depends not only on economics but also on the ambitions of the members of the group. Hunter and Andreae have already formed their own quartet HAQ and the Jazzmann will be taking a look at their Efpi released EP shortly. Like Loose Tubes there are doubtless other splinter groups within the ranks and it will be interesting to see how long Cottrell can keep these exciting young talents together under the Beats & Pieces umbrella. For now this exciting début release is something to be enjoyed and savoured packed as it is with youthful exuberance, fiery playing and a high degree of technical skill.

The full line up of the band is;
Ben Cottrell-Composer and Musical Director
Sam Andreae, Kenji Fenton, Sam Healey, Jo McCallum-reeds
Tim Cox, Simon Lodge, Owain Roberts,Paul Strachan-trombones
Owen Bryce, Chris Snead, Graham South, Nick Walters-trumpets/flugelhorns
Anton Hunter-guitar
Patrick Hurley-piano & Rhodes
Nick Blacka-bass
Finlay Panter-drums

George Dennis-electronics (Bake, Broken)
Helen Wilson-flute (Yafw)
Esther Swift-vocals (Broken)
Tullis Rennie-vocal manipulation (Broken)

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