Beats & Pieces Big Band - ALL IN
(Efpi Records. FP022. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)
Beats & Pieces Big Band have been around for a few years, but whilst I had heard good things about them, I had failed to catch them live or on record. My first experience of them was therefore a disembodied voice saying "All right!" just followed by Finlay Panter counting in the band on hi-hat for the fast and slightly manic introduction to rocky. All right indeed.
Beats & Pieces describe themselves as a band that happens to be big, rather than a "big band", and rocky demonstrates this: big and complex instrumentation playing riffs that one can imagine a smaller, rock or fusion outfit playing.
The second track, pop has a similar insistent rock feel about it, propelled by Panter's straight-ahead drums. Then over the band's riffing is an understated line from Anton Hunter's guitar and on trumpet, which leads to an extended solo from Nick Walters' muted trumpet, the first inkling of the serious jazz chops behind these players. There is a break in the tune and then band quietly (and then loudly) come back in for a spine tingling brass arrangement. For that arrangement alone, I've become a fan of the band's director and arranger Ben Cottrell: it is sublime, worthy of late period Gil Evans or Colin Towns' work with the NDR Big Band. There are many such moments on this record.
The arrangements let individuals shine in their solos. The funky, slightly Latin feel of rain features pianist Patrick Hurley on Fender Rhodes; havmann, a long, moody track with lots of tight brass arrangements, has a superb, brooding solo by Graham South on flugelhorn.
There are six original tracks by Cottrell on this record and a single cover: starting with a smooth, sinuous slow groove from bass and a drums, it wasn't until brass had played the theme several times that I recognised David Bowie's let's dance. The band is restrained for several slinky choruses of this eighties pop hit until they come in stomping and riffing. Harrison Wood's bass is central to the success of this track, and indeed the record as a whole: his understated playing underpins the arrangements.
The album closes with a more bucolic, gentle tune, fairytale, sounding like a brass band, as if to leave us relaxed and mellow after the excitement: a contrast which emphasises the depths throughout this record.
The CD is released in June 8. The band are playing live at Manchester Soup Kitchen on Tuesday 7 July and London Ronnie Scott's on Wednesday 8 July.