Review: 2012 Dankworth Prizewinners Concert

Trinity Jazz Ensemble 2011
Photo credit: David Sinclair. Reproduced by permission of TLCMD


Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition- 2012 Prizewiinners' Concert by ensembles from Trinity Laban
(Ronne Scott's, 13th February 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)


The Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition is now in its fourth year. For me, it’s an annual reminder that nothing stands still- probably because our write-up of the very first Prizewinners’ concert in 2009 was also the very first review ever to be published on these pages.

That night, John himself presented the award, which didn’t yet carry his name. This year, the second anniversary of his death having fallen last week, it was the turn of a new generation of Dankworths to step up and present the prizes: John’s granddaughter Emily Dankworth wielded the envelopes, spoke clearly and succinctly, and officiated extremely well.

There have been other changes to the prize in the first four years. The prize originally had both big band and small band categories, and now focuses solely on big band, with a prize for the winner (this year James Opstad) and a runner-up (William Gibson) .

What of the winning pieces? Gibson’s piece Solicitude had a sonorous opening for brass choir, and appealing antiphonal writing, and a melodic sweep reminiscent of Maria Schneider. The piece gave a good platform for soloists such as Johnny Murray on trumpet and Tom Varrall on guitar. Opstad’s winning piece “What Was the Question?” was far bolder. Opstad develops a real sense of narrative and build, by alternating rhythmically insistent monotones and semitone clusters with unexpected melodic shapes. It's the sort of piece which doesn’t give everything it’s got on a single hearing.

The Dankworth Prize evening ushers in the new, but has also invented its own tradition by sticking to some unchanging virtues. The annual event serves as a celebration of the craft of the arranger, not just in encouraging students to write new work for the medium, but also by setting these works in the context of a concert bringing into life pieces from the repertoire . The work which Malcolm Earle Smith does to inroduce students to older repertoire – arrangements by Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson were played by the Trinity Jazz Ensemble with panache, Corrie Dick particualrly bright and alert on drums. Trinity is steeped in big band tradition – Bobby Lamb’s band – I think? - pre-dated the jazz course.

The evening also serves as a showcase for a large number of the student jazz musicians from Trinity (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance). And a demonstration of the TLC with which the conservatoire nurtures its students. There did seem to be a particular buzz last night, probably because Trinity has such a strong cohort of musicians this year. Sam James' trio opened proceeding, showcasing a tenor sax player capable of projecting to audiences in the manner of Joshua Redman: Leo Aaron- Richardson. Laura Jurd was highly impressive taking solo turns. Frank Sinclair is a strong-toned lead alto player in the manner of Bob Martin.

Mark Lockheart directed the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble through most of Gil Evans’ 1960 album “Out of the Cool.” in celebration of the Gil Evans centenary. The moodier numbers : Sunken Treasure and Where Flamingoes Fly were atmospheric, effective. Pianist Elliott Galvin’s solo spot on La Nevada may – with good reason- have garnered the loudest applause of the evening.

It was the kind of Ronnie's evening when the bush telegraph functions well: professional players and singers were dropping in from the bar upstairs and muttering things like “What a band”, or “that drummer!” (referring to George Bird). A great night.

The Dankworth Prize is supported by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and the Wavendon Foundation, was instigated by Art Mead. The judges were Nikki Iles, Tim Garland and Frank Griffith. The prize is produced in association withTrinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Ronnie Scott’s.



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