Review: Callum Au Big Band - West Side Story

The Callum Au Big Band.Photo credit Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved

Callum Au Big Band- West Side Story
(Spice of Life, 13th June 2012. Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes)


On Wednesday night at the Spice of Life, the Callum Au Big Band showcased a suite of music from West Side Story, arranged and re-interpreted by Au. Suave, fierce and full of surprises,this is a suite that should be being heard on the major stages in thiscountry. And it’s played by a band that can rival many more seasoned professional big bands in terms of artistic credibility and execution.

The suite is made up of six selections from the West Side Story score: Something’s Coming, Maria, Cool, Somewhere, America and Tonight,which segued beautifully by putting pianist Chris Eldred’s fine cadenza skills to full use. As a complete suite it’sintelligent writing, exploiting an unusual combination of textures and timbres:at one point employing four flugelhorns in the trumpet section as well as tenor horn and tuba within the trombones.

Some highlights: Maria brought a tear to the eye, with Kwabena Adjepong’s vocals balancing perfectly atop a core of delicious woodwind; A Pat Metheney-esque Afro Cuban treatment of America;and a culmination of the two singers, Kwabena and Emma Smith, on Tonight.

Emma Smith. Photo credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved


Solos were specially commended – Lucas Dodd on soaring soprano saxophone and Robbie Harvey producing a flourish of notes on tenor trombone –with Au pertinently announcing, “It’s not how many notes, but which.” The suite coaxed an entirely convincing“super” range (notes found within and above the top octave on the piano) fromits fledgling trumpet section – headed by an 18-year-old Louis Dowdeswell who played the entire gig standing with a broken leg in plaster.

I am looking forward to seeing where this project goes next,and hope that it gets the credit it deserves.

Callum Au Music website

LondonJazz interview with Callum Au about West Side Story

1 comment:

  1. I was gutted to miss this! It's very exciting to see young arrangers and performers tackling well-known and difficult material and still managing to bring new ideas to the party... And also proving that big band music is NOT dead, but flourishing!

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