Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

May 23, 2013


Willcox strikes a good balance between traditional big band virtues and a more contemporary and experimental approach.

Scott Willcox Big Band

“Go For It!”

(Marquetry Records MR937)

Scott Willcox describes himself as a “composer, arranger and musical director”. He works across a number of musical genres and has written orchestral and choral pieces plus chamber music as well as writing songs and composing items for his jazz big band.

Willcox formed his jazz outlet in 2007 with the Big Band subsequently releasing the marvellously titled “Band Substance” in 2008. Besides the two big band CDs the other recorded item in Willcox’s catalogue is “Good News, Good Music”, a setting of gospel songs which also draws upon a large ensemble sound.

Many of the UK’s leading jazz players have passed through the ranks of the Willcox Big Band. The line up to be heard on this latest recording includes saxophonists Chris Biscoe, Tony Woods and Pete Hurt, trumpeters Gabriel Garrick and Andy Gibson, pianist Dave Frankel and bassist Patrick Bettison. Two vocal tracks feature (separately) the voices of Philippa Stuart and Nette Robinson.

The Willcox Big Band features a classic line up of five reeds, four trumpets, and three trombones plus piano, bass and drums. Extra percussion is provided by Tom Gregory and there are also the two occasional vocalists. Conducted by Willcox the album was recorded in the environs of St. Andrew’s Baptist Church in Upper Halliford, Surrey in February 2012 and appears on Tony Woods’ Marquetry record label. The material is mainly by Scott Willcox with the exception of “Martin Luther” (Russ Courtenay arr. Scott Willcox) and the closing “Aerodynamics” written by band drummer Gary Willcox, who I assumed to be Scott’s brother but is actually his son. 

Willcox’s classical training ensures that his compositions are full of sophisticated musical ideas which some of his musicians have compared with the writing of the great George Russell (some of them have worked with Russell in the past, so they ought to know!).

The set begins with the relatively brief but nonetheless powerful title track which features some rousing charts and the biting alto sax of Chris Biscoe. Throughout the album Willcox strikes a good balance between traditional big band virtues and a more contemporary and experimental approach.

Willcox’s setting of Coutenay’s “Martin Luther” satisfies something of the arranger’s gospel leanings with rich and fruity trombones prominent in the arrangement. It’s a fine piece of ensemble playing with imaginative and colourful horn voicings and although there are no major featured soloists there are plenty of delightful little cameos from individual members of the band.

Playful and appealing “2nd Thoughts” features similarly rich ensemble tapestries plus the fluent, warm toned alto of Tony Woods and the assured trumpeting of Andy Gibson.

The song “Something Beautiful” features the yearning but well enunciated vocals of Philippa Stuart within a lush big band arrangement. The piece is also graced by a flowingly lyrical solo by pianist Dave Frankel. Shades here of some of the late Michael Garrick’s settings of poetry with singer Norma Winstone.

“Keep ‘Em Guessing” adds an element of Latin exotica with drummer Gary Willcox and percussionist Tom Gregory productively busy. Unfortunately the soloists aren’t listed but there’s an enjoyable early baritone feature and some terrific co-operative interplay between the horns. Pianist Frankel is easier to identify with a lively, sparkling solo and there are some rousing unison horn passages. Constantly ebbing and flowing this represents the longest track on the album and it’s consistently invigorating stuff.

The suitably intriguing “Thinking, Thinking” features the bright trumpeting of Andy Gibson above an insistent vamp, it’s a surprisingly rich and imaginative arrangement based around a relatively simple idea with the use of flute adding extra interest.

“Worth The Wait” is a further expression of Willcox’s Christian faith given voice by the coolly elegant singing of Nette Robinson. The lyrics are straight from the gospel tradition but the imaginative arrangement is subtle and understated with a quietly exotic percussive undertow. The pithy cameos from reeds and trumpets sadly go uncredited.

As its title suggests “Casa Andreina” is another piece to include subtle Latin flavourings with Gregory’s percussion again at the heart of the music. Individual soloists are again uncredited but there are a number of fine exchanges plus many passages of exemplary ensemble playing with the mood lifting perceptibly part way through.

Gary Willcox’s “Aerodynamics” concludes the album in suitably stirring and uplifting big band fashion with Frankel making a telling contribution alongside the massed horns.

Imaginatively arranged and conducted, and impeccably played by an ensemble of highly accomplished musicians “Go For It!” represents a hugely enjoyable big band album. Willcox keeps the virtues of swing and sweetness but deploys them in a contemporary context with consistently interesting rhythms and arrangements in an admirably diverse and well programmed set.

The full line up on this recording was;

Scott Willcox (conductor)
Chris Biscoe/Tony Woods/Pete Hurt/Martin Dunsdon/Erica Clarke (saxes)
Ben Dawson/Gabriel Garrick/Andy Gibson/Giles Straw (trumpets)
David Horden/Eoughan Kelly/Chris Lowe (trombones)
Dave Frankel (piano), Patrick Bettison (bass)
Gary Willcox (drums), Tom Gregory (percussion)
Philippa Stuart/Nette Robinson (voice)

This is a band that should be well worth seeing live and listeners will get the opportunity to so on the following dates; 

SCOTT WILLCOX BIG BAND Jubilee Centre, Manygate Lane, Shepperton
Sunday 16th June 2013

SCOTT WILLCOX BIG BAND Go For It! album launch Spice of Life, Soho
Wednesday 24th July 2013

SCOTT WILLCOX BIG BAND Savation Army, Ashford, Middlesex
Sunday 27th October 2013


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