REVIEW: Grand Union Orchestra - Undream’d Shores at Hackney Empire

The full cast of Undream'd Shores at Hackney Empire


Grand Union Orchestra -Undream’d Shores
(Hackney Empire, 2nd November 2014. Review by Duncan Heining)


The Grand Union Orchestra has been making great, radical world jazz in the musical melting pot of London’s East End for thirty years. By rights, Undream’d Shores, their most elaborate and expansive show yet, should have filled the Festival Hall. Surely only neglect and ignorance keeps GUO out of such august venues. Wouldn’t you think these tales of migration, exile, loss and ultimate transcendence would strike a chord everywhere and melt even the most jaded and cynical of hearts? No matter, this is East End jazz in its rightful home at the Hackney Empire.

More a song cycle than GUO’s other more operatic productions, for Undream’d Shores this stellar orchestra brought along their new Grand Union World Choir, the Grand Union Youth Orchestra String Ensemble and members of GUO’s 2nd Generation project to create another unique and radical entertainment.

There’s so much going on that one is swept away in the moment and recall after the event is just a kaleidoscope of memories. Australian flautist Louise Elliott duetting with Chinese flute player Ruijun Hu. An English folk song sung beautifully by Chris Harrison and Akash Sultan with sitar drone accompaniment. And where else would you hear Claude Deppa on trumpet, Chris Biscoe on soprano and Tony Kofi on alto trading eights over big band, bebop chords following a heavy metal power trio section with blistering guitar from Gerry Hunt over a rock solid rhythm section?

This night also marked the coming of age of GUO’s youth section, with the strings, Mak Murtic on tenor from Croatia and British Caribbean bassist Josh Brandler particularly impressive. But the way the band uses voices is just so inspiring – from Gunes Cerit’s plangent tones on an Anatolian folk tune through Croatian Maya Riviç’s gorgeous contralto on an Eastern European dance tune and Jonathan André’s dramatic Mr. Never Smile (dedicated to immigration officers everywhere) to Congolese singer Jacqueline Lwanzo’s righteously uplifting Twimbe Sana. This was surely the finest GUO show of thirty remarkable years. Not that the denizens of West End jazz will notice.

East End jazz refreshes the parts West End jazz cannot reach!

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