by Ian Mann
January 16, 2018
Colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians.
Gareth Lockrane Big Band
“Fistfight At the Barndance”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4710)
Released in August 2017 here is an album that has been sitting in the ‘to do’ file for far too long.
Musician, composer and educator Gareth Lockrane has long been regarded as Britain’s premier jazz flautist. Born in 1976 he took up the instrument at the age of ten inspired by the likes of Frank Wess, Roland Kirk, Joe Farrell, Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy and other names to be found in his father’s record collection. He progressed through NYJO, with whom he still retains close links as a writer and arranger ,and also studied in the UK under Stan Sulzmann and Eddie Parker and in New York with Joe Lovano and others.
In 2002 he formed the quintet Grooveyard fronted by himself and saxophonist Alex Garnett and driven by the Hammond organ of firstly Pete Whittaker and latterly Ross Stanley. The group have released three albums “Roots”, “Put The Cat Out” (2003) and “The Strut” (2012).
Lockrane has also fronted his own septet, a unit capable of generating a surprisingly big sound, with which he released the album “No Messin’ “ back in 2010.
He has also been part of the more intimate Bannau Trio, a ‘chamber jazz’ group featuring the vocal and lyrical talents of Nia Lynn and with the versatile Stanley on piano.
As a sideman Lockrane has worked with guitarists Phil Robson and Dan Messore, organist James Taylor, vocalist Christine Tobin and drummer Asaf Sirkis among many others.
For a number of years Lockrane has run his own Big Band featuring some of London’s leading jazz musicians, the personnel spanning a variety of jazz generations. “it’s a celebration of the musicians community in the UK” as Lockrane remarks in his liner notes to this, the début release from his Big Band.
Lockrane’s Big Band is an extension of his septet and of the Grooveyard group and has been in existence since 2008. In 2012 I reviewed a performance by the Big Band at the Spice of Life as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. Some of the pieces played that day have found their way onto the new album, as have some of the musicians, but the GLBB of 2017 is very different in terms of personnel to that of 2012.
For the record the line up on “Fist Fight At The Barn Dance” comprises of;
Gareth Lockrane – flute/ alto & bass flutes/ piccolo /compositions
Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Andy Greenwood, Tom Walsh – trumpets, flugels
Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman – alto & soprano saxes, clarinets
Graeme Blevins, Nadim Teimoori -tenor saxes, flute
Paul Booth – tenor sax, flute ( tracks 3, 4, 9 – replacing Blevins)
Richard Shepherd – baritone sax, bass clarinet
Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson, Trevor Mires- trombones
Barry Clements – bass trombone
Mike Outram - guitar
Ross Stanley - piano/Rhodes/organ
Ryan Trebilcock - double/electric bass
Ian Thomas - drums
Hugh Wilkinson - percussion
Jonny Mansfield – marimba (track 2)
Nick Smart – conductor
Of the choice of personnel Lockrane comments;
“There are contemporaries of mine from college, including Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Sammy Mayne and Mike Outram; some of the players, such as Ian Thomas and Mark Nightingale, were pillars of the scene when I originally moved down to London; and then there are the younger musicians I taught at the Royal Academy of Music – for example, Tom Walsh, James Gardiner-Bateman and Nadim Teimoori. So I feel a great connection with this extraordinary bunch of guys from across the generations; and with so many fine soloists amongst them, it’s satisfying to provide each with the opportunity to shine”.
Lockrane says of the recording;
“This début album of my big band has long been an ambition of mine to put together, something I have been promising to do ever since the band had its first gig in 2008. I wanted to present my tunes on a grand scale, combining my jazz roots and love of orchestration with influences from everywhere else; film music, rock, cop show funk, Indian raga sounds, gospel, soul and classical music. All combine here to produce what I hope is as enjoyable for the listener as it was for me to write for and be a part of”.
He cites the influence of such musician/composers as Jaco Pastorius, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Wheeler and Dizzy Gillespie, artists who could “duck around and improvise inside their own forms and arrangements and constantly generate fresh small group ideas within a lavish large ensemble framework”.
Among others who have been suggested as influences are jazz composers Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Charles Mingus plus the composer/arrangers Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini, figures more associated with writing for films and television. Lockrane himself has a degree in film composition.
“It’s about sustaining a mood and arranging the sounds so that every moment counts, while also allowing each section the opportunity to enjoy the freedom. And my own role is intentionally quite loose, playing off the band or ducking around inside the arrangements as a middle-man between the rhythm section and the horns”.
The album was recorded over the course of a single day in November 2016 at the Fish Factory studio in London by engineer Ben Lamdin before being mixed and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid in New York. Consequently there’s a live, spontaneous feel about the music, almost as if the Band had been documented at a gig.
The recording kicks off the title track, a piece inspired by Lockrane’s late father Eric as Gareth explains:
“My dad was an outstanding self-taught jazz and blues harmonica player and had a 6/8 blues riff up his sleeve. He called it “Fistfight at the Barndance” and always wanted to see it through to being a bona fide tune. It always struck me as a great title with a healthy dose of anarchic imagery and as a tribute to him it is a version of his riff which triggers off the New Orleans call and response sections”.
Lockrane Senior’s riff is certainly an infectious affair that helps to generate those exchanges between the leader’s flute and the horns, with Stanley’s Hammond also playing a prominent part in the arrangement. It also helps to fuel the opening solo from Dickinson on fruity, but agile trombone. He’s followed by the purer sound of the leader’s flute and finally the fleet fingered Stanley at the piano. It’s a piece that was featuring in the Band’s repertoire back in 2012 and which was played at the Spice.
Thomas kick starts the funky “Do It” which has something of the feel of a cop show theme and packs a series of concise solos into its near seven minute duration. Blevins’ fluent tenor leads the way followed by the rasp of Mires on trombone and then by Outram on guitar, the latter with a solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Steely Dan album. There’s also a drum and percussion dialogue involving Thomas and Wilkinson towards the close.
The ballad “We’ll Never Meet Again” is another piece that was performed at the ‘Spice’. Here it represents a welcome change of mood and pace, with a sparse arrangement paced by Trebilcock’s acoustic bass and featuring the warm sound of the leader on ( I think) alto flute. The horn arrangements are correspondingly lush while Outram demonstrates another side to his playing with a coolly elegant guitar solo.
“On The Fly” raises the energy levels once more with its soulful grooves and rich orchestrations allied to solos from Lockrane on flute, a supremely fluent Fishwick on trumpet and visiting saxophonist Paul Booth on loquacious tenor.
The aptly named “Stutterfunk” is another piece to survive from the Spice session. Introduced by Thomas and Wilkinson a new, funky, hard driving arrangement sees Trebilcock moving to electric bass while the punchy horn arrangements frame solos from Gardiner-Bateman on incisive alto and Stanley on grooving, gospel fuelled Hammond. Eventually Thomas gets to enjoy a final high energy drum break.
“Forever Now” cools things down once more with a gently mellifluous arrangement featuring muted horn voicings with solos coming from the leader on flute and Teimoori on tenor, the latter introducing a slight edge to the proceedings.
The lively “Aby7innia” deploys predictably complex rhythms but the GLBB take it in their stride with Blevins on tenor and Collins on trumpet the featured horn soloists, both taking flight amidst some impressive section playing. Meanwhile big hitter Ian Thomas again relishes a series of fiery drum breaks.
Guitarist Outram comes to the fore on the punchy, bluesy “Roots”, sounding almost Scofield like at times as he shares the solos with Nightingale on similarly blues infused trombone and rising sax star Teimoori on tenor, the latter with Stanley’s Hammond surging behind him.
Another composition to survive from 2012 is Lockrane’s “Mel’s Spell”, written after Lockrane had witnessed the Mel Lewis Big Band playing at the Village Vanguard in New York City – lucky chap, I’m feeling quite jealous. The elegant, sometimes rousing new arrangement features solos from the leader on flute and Stanley at the piano.
“One For Junia” introduces itself by shimmering gently on the horizon with the leader’s flute prominent in the arrangement. However it soon settles into a busy groove, gradually building in intensity as the piece progresses. A vibrant arrangement includes some excellent ensemble playing and also finds room for cogent solos from Lockrane on flute and Mayne on probing alto.
The album concludes with the appropriately strident “5B3 Boogie” with Stanley’s Hammond helping to fuel solos from Fishwick on trumpet and Shepherd on baritone sax as the rest of the ensemble swings prodigiously. Meanwhile Thomas’ drums help to propel the music to an authentically rousing big band climax.
Having witnessed the many headed, multi-limbed beast that is the Gareth Lockrane Big Band in action I’m pleased to see that Gareth has finally been able to document his large ensemble writing on disc. At 78 minutes in length this is a value for money collection of colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians. There are some excellent solos peppered throughout the album and some superior ensemble playing but the bulk of the plaudits must go to Lockrane for having the vision to bring all this together while playing a blinder himself.
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