by Ian Mann
August 29, 2013
A remarkably mature début. Fowler clearly has all the skills needed for a long and illustrious jazz career, expect to hear a lot more from this talented young musician.
(Edition Records EDN1042)
The young trumpeter and composer Reuben Fowler hails from Wakefield and began his musical career playing cornet in brass bands. From there he progressed to playing jazz trumpet with the bands of the Doncaster Jazz Association under the direction of John Ellis. Later he became a member of NYJO before moving to London to study on the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music graduating in 2012.
That same year Fowler won the Kenny Wheeler Music Prize which partly helped to finance this current project, a big band (or jazz orchestra, if you prefer) album released on Edition Records, the label co-owned by pianist Dave Stapleton, one of the judging panel for the Wheeler prize. Fowler also won the Peter Whittngham Award presented by the Musicians Benevolent Fund which also contributed towards the considerable studio costs. In any event “Between Shadows” represents a remarkably mature début and features a series of excellent original jazz compositions plus imaginative arrangements of a couple of outside items which I’ll come to later.
Fowler has assembled a talented ensemble of mainly young British musicians plus three distinguished guest soloists in Stan Sulzmann (soprano sax), Jim Hart (vibes) and one of Fowler’s musical heroes, the great Tom Harrell on trumpet and flugelhorn. The ensemble is conducted by Guy Barker but at the end of the day its the composing and arranging skills of Fowler that are the real key to the album’s success. There are certain similarities to the excellent Big Band album released in 2012 by another young trumpeter, Jack Davies, a session on which Fowler played, doubtless learning much in the process. Both albums were the result of musical awards with cash prizes, both feature illustrious guest soloists and both feature a form of suite. More importantly both are ambitious and full of brilliantly realised ideas.
I’ve only seen Fowler perform once as part of the superb Troykestra ensemble at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. His role there was fairly minor and functional and this album is a better indicator of his all round ability as a player, composer and arranger. Recorded over the course of two days the album features Fowler on both trumpet and flugelhorn leading an ensemble comprised of;
TRUMPETS: Mike Lovatt, George Hogg, Percy Pursglove, Freddie Gavita (Day 1), Andy Greenwood (Day 2).
WOODWINDS: Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman, Joe Wright, George Crowley, Rob Cope.
TROMBONES: Gordon Campbell, Robbie Harvey, Kieron McLeod, Callum Au.
GUITAR; Alex Munk
PIANO: Matt Robinson
BASS; Tom McCredie
DRUMS; Dave Hamblett
CAJON; Barak Schmool
VOCALS; Brigitte Beraha, Guillermo Rozenthuler
SPECIAL GUESTS; Tm Harrell (flugelhorn, trumpet), Stan Sulzmann (soprano sax), Jim Hart (vibes, glockenspiel).
CONDUCTOR: Guy Barker
Many of the musicians are former Royal Academy students and also appeared both on the Jack Davies album and with Troykestra.
And so on to the music. The album begins with Fowler’s arrangement of “Too Minor” by the late Richard Turner. Originally from Leeds fellow trumpeter and Academy student Turner was slightly older than Fowler and acted as a kind of role model and mentor. Turner was a fast emerging talent who died suddenly and tragically in 2011 and Fowler’s arrangement is a fitting tribute to his late friend. The opening section is a transcription of Turner’s original solo on the piece and this in turn leads to excellent features for pianist Matt Robinson, Percy Pursglove on flugelhorn and Sam Mayne on alto sax. Impressive as the soloists are it’s the overall quality of the arrangement that impresses most with its colourful, richly textured ensemble passages full of interesting harmonic and rhythmic ideas, qualities that extend into Fowler’s own writing. Congratulations too to the engineering team of Steve Price, Jeremy Matthews, Dave Darlington and Ian Cooper who ensure that every nuance and detail can be heard with the utmost clarity.
It’s not clear whether “Holness” is a tribute to Bob of Blockbusters fame or his jazz piano playing son Steve, I’d hazard a guess at the latter. The tune is presaged by the brief “Introduction To Holness” with airy flutes, piano, and gently tinkling glockenspiel gradually supplanted by richer, darker textures. The snippet of melody first heard in the introduction continues into the tune itself.
The overall atmosphere is gently pastoral with warm, rich ensemble textures and unhurried, lyrical solos from George Crowley on clarinet and guest Stan Sulzmann on soprano sax. Alex Munk’s guitar solo then brings another element to the music on this impressively wide ranging composition.
“Dundry (For JGB) features the alto saxophone of James Gardiner-Bateman, presumably the dedicatee of the title. It’s also a vehicle for two of Fowler’s star guests with Hart producing a typically sparkling vibes solo and Harrell revealing his expressive abilities on both flugel and trumpet. Gardiner-Bateman follows these two and more than holds his own on a powerful solo supported by a flaring trumpet section.
The rest of the album is comprised of the five part “Between Shadows” suite, the composition that won Fowler the coveted Wheeler prize. Not surprisingly Fowler cites Wheeler as key influence both as a player and as a writer/arranger. Other acknowledged influences as players are Harrell and Gerard Presencer with Fowler citing Gil Evans, Mike Abene and Vince Mendoza as arrangers whose work he particularly admires. Traces of all these can be heard throughout the album but it’s to Fowler’s credit that he transcends the sum of his influences to come up with something that is bright and original and very much his own.
“Between Shadows” begins with a gently scratchy free form “Introduction” and a brief “Part 1” that eventually gives way to a strikingly original arrangement of Manning Sherwin’s “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square”, effectively “Part 2”. The richly sumptuous horn voicings frame fluent solos from Robbie Harvey on trombone, Sam Mayne on alto sax and Freddie Gavita on trumpet.
“Part 3-The Lost” features the singing of Argentinian vocalist Guillermo Rozenthuler on the tango inflected opening stages. Fowler also chooses to feature himself for the first time, combining a warm and rounded tone with an admirable fluency as he specialises on flugelhorn. He shares the instrumental spotlight with Sulzmann’s sinuous soprano sax as the guest soloist delivers another outstanding contribution.
The eleven minute “Part 4-The Lost and the Found” features the Norma Winstone styled vocals of Brigitte Beraha, a reminder perhaps of the influence of Kenny Wheeler who still regularly deploys Winstone in his bands. Meanwhile Gardiner-Bateman adopts a warmer, more thoughtful tone on alto sax, his solo followed by the pensive, velvety tones of Fowler on flugelhorn. Beraha first sings wordlessly before effectively delivering the album’s only lyric in the closing stages of the piece.
A shorter “Part 5 - Ending”, featuring the tenor saxophone of Joe Wright acts as a kind of coda, ensuring that this excellent album ends on an optimistic note.
“Between Shadows” represents a triumph for Reuben Fowler but it’s also a superb all round team performance with all the musicians and production staff clearly right on top of their game. It’s an astonishingly accomplished piece of work for a twenty three year old and one that promises to establish Fowler firmly on the jazz map. Obviously economics dictate that it will be virtually impossible for him to keep a big band together and hence this album is likely to be a glorious one off. However the quality of the writing plus Fowler’s own playing suggests that he will also be well worth checking out in a small group context. Fowler clearly has all the skills needed for a long and illustrious jazz career, expect to hear a lot more from this talented young musician.
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