Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

June 26, 2017


This performance impresses not only through Haines’ rich, colourful, cogent writing but also through the quality of the individual solos and the controlled power of the whole ensemble.

Tom Haines with The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra


(Tom Haines Music)

Tom Haines is a Warwickshire based drummer and composer. He recently featured on the Jazzmann web pages as the drummer on the 2017 album release “Light From Dawn” by saxophonist and composer Jay Riley’s quartet. He also performs as part of a trio led by the young Leamington Spa based pop/soul vocalist Tom Barnwell and leads the jazz/function band The Chaser Quartet.

However a glance at Haines’ website suggests that he primarily regards himself as a composer. Besides writing for jazz big band Haines has also composed music for dance, film and theatre companies and his work was recently featured on a short film promoting Coventry’s City of Culture bid.

Haines’ music has been performed internationally and many of his jazz compositions have received awards including 2017’s “Elegantly Ella” which won the 4th annual European Big Band Composer Competition. 

This self released live album recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra represents Haines’ leadership début on disc. It was recorded on December 7th 2016 at Stratford Jazz at a special concert celebrating the 30th anniversary at the club. The aforementioned Jay Riley album was also recorded at the same venue.

Made possible by a Crowdfunding campaign the album features five of Haines’ compositions, the majority of them award winners, and the performance was documented, edited, mixed and mastered by engineer Luke Morrish-Thomas, a stalwart presence on the Midlands jazz scene.

The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra features many of that city’s finest musicians, the bulk of them graduates of the celebrated jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire and several of them band leaders in their own right. Jazz fans in the Midlands will be familiar with the playing of many of the musicians in a stellar line up comprising of;

Tom Haines – composer & conductor

Elliot Drew – soprano & alto saxes, flute

Chris Young – alto saxophonist

John Fleming – tenor sax, flute

Vittorio Mura – tenor sax, clarinet

Alicia Gardener-Trejo – baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute

Tom Syson – lead trumpet

Sean Gibbs, Hugh Pascall – trumpets

Mike Adlington –trumpet & flugelhorn

Richard Foote, Kieran McLeod, David Sear – trombones

Andrew Clennell – bass trombone

Ben Lee – guitar

David Ferris – piano

Stuart Barker – double bass

Jonathan Silk – drums

Rosie Harris – guest vocals

The opening piece, “Yitzoid”, won the 28th “Concorso per Orchestra Jazz Composizioni Originali” award at the Barga Jazz Festival in Italy in 2015. Influenced by minimalism the piece commences with a series of short, interlocking horn phrases, thus ensuring that the numerous horns in the band perform a rhythmic as well as melodic function. Haines’ writing here is busy, complex and highly rhythmic, but never obtrusive. More conventional big band elements are gradually introduced, these leading in turn to a blistering alto solo from Young allied to a more concise trumpet feature from Gibbs. An exciting and highly original start.

“ Mystery Dog” (alternatively titled “Mr. E. Dog”) is another award winner having scooped the inaugural Eddie Harvey Jazz Arranger of the Year Award in 2014. At nearly thirteen and a half minutes in length it’s something of an epic with a strong narrative arc and a variety of emotional, dynamic and stylistic changes. The piece commences quietly and reflectively with the sound of Ferris’ unaccompanied piano, this subsequently joined in duet by the airy sound of Drew’s soprano sax. Eventually the rest of the Orchestra are introduced to the piece and the music begins to gradually gather momentum, helped by some memorable melodic themes and some snappy playing from Silk at the drums. The trajectory is maintained via fluent solos from Gardener-Trejo on baritone sax and McLeod on trombone before Drew returns, his incisive soprano dancing capriciously above an increasingly forceful big band backing including some contrastingly deep low end resonances. This performance impresses not only through Haines’ rich, colourful, cogent writing but also through the quality of the individual solos and the controlled power of the whole ensemble.

“Remembrance”, written in 2009, is dedicated to the memory of Eric Haines Sr., presumably Tom’s grandfather. As one would expect it’s a gentler, more lyrical piece with warm, lush ensemble textures although there’s still enough dynamism in the music to sustain the listener’s attention throughout its ten minute duration. The soloists are Lee on liquidly melodic guitar and Adlington on elegant and eloquent flugelhorn. The piece ends with Ferris’ sparse, hymnal solo piano chording.

The more recent “Strange Utopia”, written in 2016 and receiving its UK première introduces a batch of new elements. Harris sings lyrics sourced from “The Book of the Serpent” by the Danish poet Ursula Andkjaer Olsen. The lyrics are not reproduced on the album packaging but appear to be an extended “Garden of Eden” allegory.  Harris’ voice is part of a powerful big band arrangement that includes plenty of guitar overdrive from Lee and a rousing, hard edged tenor sax solo from Fleming.

The album concludes with “Whistleblower”, another award winning composition having won the Duvel Jazz Award and Bose Audience Award at the Brussels Jazz Orchestra International Composition Contest in 2013. With its insidious grooves and punchy ensemble passages allied to a muscular tenor solo from Mura plus further features from the excellent Ferris at the piano and finally the dynamic Silk at the drums this is an excellent way to round off a very good album. 

Overall this is an impressive début from Haines with four of the five compositions hitting the target convincingly. For me “Mystery Dog” is the pick of the pieces for its strong sense of narrative and a palpable cinematic quality, as befits a composer who also writes for film.

I’m less keen on the vocal item, “Strange Utopia”, which seems to be trying just a little bit too hard to be ‘arty’ and with Harris’ voice too often drowned out by the music. Having said that it does have its moments and it’s a brave attempt to do something a little bit different. One certainly can’t fault Haines’ sense of ambition.

Under Haines’ guidance all the musicians perform well. The members of the BJO are experienced performers in the big band format and many of them also appear on recent large ensemble recordings by Birmingham based musician/composers Jonathan Silk, Sean Gibbs and Charlie Bates, all of which are well worth hearing.

Haines’ album has been well received by the wider British jazz community with other favourable reviews coming from Peter Bacon for London Jazz News and Adrian Pallant for his own AP Reviews. 

Album available via Bandcamp and iTunes at

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