PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell/ Beats & Pieces Big Band (Ronnie Scott's 8th July)

Beats & Pieces setting up at Jazztage& Görlitz, May 2015


LondonJazz News first covered Beats & Pieces in May 2010 when they were about to do their first London gig at the Forge. Five years on, Ben Cottrell responded to some questions from Sebastian by email:

LondonJazz News: Have there been personnel changes or has it basically been the same band for five years?

Ben Cottrell: Its basically the same group of people – on the new album I think half the band is the same people that I called for the very first rehearsal in January 2008 (when I’d only written 2 tunes and before we had a name or any gigs), and the most recent new addition joined permanently almost 2 and a half years ago. I know its really difficult to keep a consistent group of people together of any size, even a quartet sometimes, so I’m really lucky that the guys in Beats & Pieces are always really up for doing stuff and will go out of their way to dep out other gigs if they can, even when that involves them losing money (as it often does – big bands aren’t going to get anyone rich anytime soon…). That continuity is amazing as a composer as I know all of their musical personalities and individual sounds inside out, and I know whilst I’m writing how they’re going to react to what I give them. It also means that we’re able to do all gigs from memory with no charts, which just wouldn’t be possible if it was a radically different group of people from gig to gig.

LJN: How do you set about finding new people?

BC: There’s a pool of people that we’ve used as deps for rehearsals or gigs whenever one of the usual musicians can’t make it, and as I mentioned above everyone is really good at making themselves available for b&p so even on the odd occasion when a dep or two is required its really rare that we’re bringing in someone who’ll be completely new to the band. Even on those occasions its always someone that I know myself and/or that the guys have personally recommended from playing with them in another group – I think that personal connection is really important.

LJN: You've been on tour this year abroad - where did you go?

BC: We played a couple of gigs in Germany at the end of May – the first was a festival called Jazztage Görlitz which is a few hours on the train from Berlin, close to the Polish border. The gig was an outdoor stage inside a local brewery, which is pretty much a perfect venue! Then we travelled back to Berlin the next day for a gig at the b-flat, a really nice club that we first played last year. It was a cool weekend but pretty tiring as we drove down from Manchester overnight for a 6am flight from Luton on the morning of the first gig – it was the only way we could afford the flights…

That was our third time travelling to Germany since our first trip in 2011 when we won the European Young Artists’ Award in Burghausen, and we’ve been pretty fortunate at getting to other places outside of the UK too – so far we’ve also made it to Norway, France and Ireland and we’re always trying to get to new places. Of course with so many people to transport and accommodate its always difficult though, and it’s a shame that the UK doesn’t have the funding available for export that is commonplace in other countries across Europe. Hopefully that is something that can be changed in the near future.

LJN: You are all good friends from Manchester, but you must get to know each other better on tour right ? 

BC: It’s definitely really nice to spend a few solid days together – its something that doesn’t happen as often as it used to when we were all students seeing each other every day, especially now that some of them have moved away from Manchester and more are starting families etc. I think we probably revert to being students again when we’re all together on tour, which may or may not be a good thing!

LJN: What has been the inspiration for some of the tunes on the new album ?

BC: My writing is influenced by loads of things – I think that’s fairly common with people of my generation that have grown up with a wide variety of music easily available to listen to, and increasingly so now with the internet, shuffle modes, streaming etc. Maybe I’ll just talk about a few of the tunes from the album, in the order that they appear on the record.

LJN:  Shall we start with 'pop'?

BC:  pop was born out of an experiment with static and repetitive snare patterns that I noticed was common in lots of Quincy Jones’ productions for Michael Jackson – in tunes like The Way You Make Me Feel or Smooth Criminal from Bad there’s the exact same snare sound on 2 and 4 almost the whole way through, regardless of what else is going on in the drums or in the rest of the arrangement. I thought that was really different to how I imagine jazz drummers normally play, where they’re constantly listening and reacting to the rest of the ensemble and often no two bars are the same – so I wanted to try using that idea of a fixed and immovable drum pattern and see if it worked in a big band tune. Hopefully it turned out ok…

LJN: And what about 'rain'

BC: rain opens with a Rhodes riff in 7 that was inspired by one of Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain – the rhythm and rough pitches of the riff are pretty close to the original fragement of recorded speech. From there the piece then goes off to other places but the original riff keeps coming back in slightly different forms throughout.

LJN: And 'fairytale?

BC: The final track on the album is a short chorale type piece called fairytale. One of the reasons that I love writing for this combination of instruments is the flexibility that it offers a composer – I think that the contrast between fairytale and the opening track rocky really demonstrate that, they’re pretty much polar opposites in every way! All of the horn players in Beats & Pieces are classically trained and many currently do extra work with orchestras across the North (Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Opera North etc) so they’re able to play really beautifully and symphonically and I wanted to write something to show that off, and they all really nailed it.

LINKS: CD review "all in"
Bookings for Ronnie Scott's 8th July  
And Manchester on 7th July

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