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The Big Shake-Up

The Big Shake-Up


by Ian Mann

January 06, 2017

/ EP

There's a wit, subtlety and sophistication about the arrangements that makes for interesting and satisfying listening.

The Big Shake-Up

“The Big Shake-Up”

Previously known as Bad Ass Brass, The Big Shake-Up is an eight piece brass and percussion ensemble based in London. Led by trombonist Jon Stokes the band also features Jean-Paul Gervasoni, Paul Munday and Gavin Broom on trumpets and flugelhorns, Sam Bullard on soprano, alto and tenor saxes, Gemma Moore on baritone sax and flute, Mike Poyser on sousaphone and Jimmy Norden on drums and percussion. Under both their current and their previous name the band have developed an impressive reputation on the capital’s live jazz circuit for their exciting, high energy live shows.

This self released five track EP first surfaced in November 2016 and was officially launched at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. It represents the band’s first release under their new name and in the main is a high energy affair that draws on the New Orleans marching band tradition plus other, more contemporary developments.

The Big Shake-Up like to work with leading contemporary jazz composers and arrangers and the EP includes three compositions by Russell Bennett, himself a talented trumpeter and a writer fully familiar with the collective and individual styles of the Big Shake-Up. The programme also includes saxophonist Dave O’Higgins’ title track, the piece after which the ensemble took their current name. The set is completed by an interpretation of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” arranged by trombonist and big band leader Callum Au and featuring a guest vocal by Sharleen Linton.

Stokes says of Bennett’s writing; “these compositions show off all aspects of The Big Shake-Up at the same time as having great grooves and soaring melodies”. This is demonstrated by the rousing opener “Don’t Block The Box” with its invigorating sousaphone and percussion grooves, uplifting melodies, tight ensemble playing and pithy solo statements from Broom on trumpet, Bullard on alto and Stokes on trombone.

O’Higgins first wrote the title track for his own ten piece Dave O’ Higgins Biggish Band with whom he recorded his own CD called “Big Shake Up” back in 2001. A modern take on a New Orleans march this arrangement is fuelled by martial style drums and pumping sousaphone and features some sophisticated interplay between the various horns before the solos kick off with Bullard’s gruff, gritty tenor, which eventually enters into an extended, and thoroughly engaging dialogue with Norden’s drums, almost veering off into ‘free’ territory at times. Finally we hear the rousing rasp of Stokes’ trombone plus some more scintillating ensemble work. “We like this tune so much we even named the band after it!” exclaims Stokes – and you can see why.

Au’s arrangement of “God Bless The Child” lowers the overall temperature but there’s still a warm glow to the music which is enhanced by a soulful and well enunciated vocal by Linton. Moore’s flute is a distinctive instrumental voice in the arrangement but the featured soloist is Bullard on blues inflected tenor.

The EP concludes with two further pieces from Bennett. The first, “On The Move”, builds on the mood established by “God Bless The Child” with a lush and sophisticated arrangement that gradually builds in intensity and features Gervasoni on both flugel and trumpet, Broom on trumpet and Bullard on tenor. 

Finally we have the marvellously titled “Bhangra and Mash” which amply demonstrates the broad range of the band’s influences. An ingenious arrangement blends Indian style melody with sophisticated horn counterpoint before combining these elements with a sturdy groove that provides the framework for Stokes’ rousing trombone solo. But there’s subtlety here too as the band reduce the pace once more prior to Bullard’s sinuous soprano sax solo before finally coming together once more to race en masse to the finish.

While a live performance is always going to be the setting in which to best enjoy The Big Shake-Up’s music this EP still works very well in the home listening environment. It demonstrates that TBS-U are much more than a mere ‘party band’ and there’s a wit, subtlety and sophistication about the arrangements that makes for interesting and satisfying listening. The playing is excellent throughout with the versatile Bullard staking a claim as the ‘star instrumentalist’ although all concerned can be proud of their efforts.

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