Review: BBC Late Night Prom - NYJO

Photo Credit: Sisi Burn
National Youth Jazz Orchestra
(Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms. 10th August 2012. Review by Robert Edgar)


In its 47-year history this was the first time that the National Youth Jazz Orchestra had been directly approached by the BBC to play at the Proms in their own right (they played in 1988 with guitarist John Williams under their founder Bill Ashton and took part in 2000 in the Proms Millennium Youth Day), so there was an excited and expectant atmosphere on Friday night both from the audience and the performers.

The programme was a varied one featuring everything from rearrangements of Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk to new compositions by Nikki Illes, Tim Garland and NYJO’s very own Chris Whiter.

Monk’s Round Midnight was heard tonight in an arrangement by musical director Mark Armstrong which maintained the angular and sinewy harmonies of Monk's tune, but also went on an excursion into double time and added some biting counter-melodies.

Hush by pianist/composer Nikki Iles, light and ethereal, was a wonderful piece that showcased the NYJO's  mastery of forms and styles. The piece started off hushed with a lovely vocal part written for Emma Smith,  her voice blending into the other instruments becoming another texture.


Photo Credit: Sisi Burn




In Jerome Richardson's Groove Merchant almost every section got its chance to shine. The sax section could play together as a unit perfectly, but when soloing never got in each others' way; on tenors Phil Meadows’ sound was quite busy, juxtaposed nicely with Jim Gold who has more of a laid back style.

We were also treated to some remarkable interplay between drummer Scott Chapman and percussionist Felix Higginbottom in a solo that started off with Chapman, alone, playing some beautifully displaced and modulating rhythms (but always keeping the hi-hat on the two and the four) before he was seamlessly joined by Higginbottom culminating in a Latin-infused ending to a solo that could have been a piece of music in itself.

The orchestra were also joined by saxophonist/composer Tim Garland who premiered his new piece Agro Alegría and drummer Mark Mondesir. This was a piece full of rage and passion unfolding slowly in constant development; I found myself listening out in vain for a vocal line to bring the melody to the fore.

One continuing tradition is NYJO's active encouragement of its members to write original compositions. Flautist Chris Whiter's piece took the form of a soundscape detailing the transition from a jungle to the city. The bird squawks and squeals on the flutes and clarinets were transformed into car horns when we arrived in the city. Higginbottom was imprssive in his impersonation of the sound of a slot machine spewing out coins - on vibraphone; a sound to inspire and encourage NYJO's fundraisers, and to bring out more in support of a unique organization which has gone through huge change in the past three years, and will continue to reflect, portray and be a part of the vibrant and diverse UK jazz scene.

* The concert will be broadcast at 7:30 PM, 17th of August on BBC4.

* Mark Armstrong has been formally appointed Musical Director, having previously been as interim in the role.

* NYJO has a new CD The Change which is out on the 24th September.

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