Review: Reuben Fowler Big Band at The Forge (Updated with video)


Reuben Fowler Big Band 
(The Forge, NW1. 25th July 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The Forge was full for the London launch of the big band album Between Shadows (Edition) by the South Yorkshire-born trumpeter/ composer Reuben Fowler, recipient of the 2012 Kenny Wheeler Prize for an outstanding graduand of the Royal Academy of Music. The band itself took a substantial amount of space in the room; what remained was filled by a supportive, responsive and mostly young audience.

A great supporter of this project has been Guy Barker, who conducted almost all of the music, coaxing out its textures in all their clarity and richness. In fact, solidarity among the trumpet fraternity was a recurring motif all evening: the band performed a brand new arrangement of Angela by Tom Harrell - who appears on the album, and one of a tune from Round Trip by the late, much-missed Richard Turner.

One departure from the standard big band line up is the use of bass clarinet (Rob Cope) rather than baritone sax, which lightens up the lower frequencies substantially. Frequent combinations of muted with unmuted trumpets also gave fascinating and unusual colours.

But the most remarkable thing is the strength of character of the music. The typical tempo is broad, unhurried. Fowler has a preference for full warm textures, a habit of allowing the music to become gradually centred and to reveal its heart gradually rather than defining its character from the outset.Those virtues were particularly to the fore at the perhaps most treasurable moment, the entrance - wordlessly at first, and in unison with Fowler himself - of vocalist Brigitte Beraha in The Lost and the Found.

There were fine contributions from several soloists; my ears were caught particularly by Gareth Lockrane's solo on Angela, which made a masterful transition from 'out' playing to progressively shaping and reinforcing the chord sequence, very much in sympathy with the form of the tune, and guitarist Alex Munk's solo on The Lost, which was impressive for its line and its inner logic. In the rhythm section, the acoustic of the Forge constantly brought to the fore the subtlety and sheer variety of drummer Dave Hamblett's playing.

But the final, longest and loudest applause, cued in by Guy Barker, was rightly reserved for the composer.

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TRUMPETS: Mike Lovatt, George Hogg, Percy Pursglove, Freddie Gavita,

WOODWINDS: Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman, Joe Wright, George Crowley, Rob Cope

TROMBONES: Nichol Thompson, Kieran McLeod, Callum Au, Barry Clements

RHYTHM: Alex Munk (g) Matt Robinson (p) Tom McCredie (b) Dave Hamblett (d)

VOICE: Brigitte Beraha

GUEST: Gareth Lockrane (flutes)

CONDUCTOR: Guy Barker


Between Shadows is on Edition Records. Next appearance: Spice of Life, Soho, 14th August.

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