PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell (Efpi Festival/Jazz at Kings Place June 25th)

Beats & Pieces Big Band. Photo credit: Emile Holba


The independent record label and umbrella organisation for a new generation of musicians Efpi is presenting a triple bill at Kings Place on June 25th: Let Spin, the Johnny Hunter Quartet, and headlined by flagship big band Beats & Pieces. The band’s leader BEN COTTRELL spoke to Peter Bacon.


LondonJazz News: Do you think there is a specific ethos about Efpi that sets it apart from other “collective” groups of musicians? Has it changed down the years?

Ben Cottrell: I imagine that the Efpi story is pretty similar to the story of many of those other collectives in other cities. Seven years on from when Efpi was established by myself, saxophonist Sam Andreae and guitarist Anton Hunter, that initial group of musicians is no longer as clearly defined by us all living a few streets away from each other in Manchester. Now the focus is more on releasing and promoting music through the label.

The character of the label roster always reflected our own musical tastes – from day one the only label aesthetic was just music that the three of us thought was cool, regardless of any genre considerations. This gig at Kings Place is the first time Efpi has put together a festival of sorts, focusing on the label’s three most recent releases – including of course Johnny Hunter Quartet’s debut full-length album that they will launch at the festival.

LJN: You’ve been running Beats & Pieces for a while now. Does it get any easier to maintain a big band and get it on the road?

BC: Not at all! It’s only really still do-able because all the musicians are so committed to the band and each other that they’ll go really far out of their way to make things happen. And now that we’re looking to play outside of the UK more we’re also competing for gigs with European big bands that receive regular and heavy state funding, have full time admin staff, access to additional export funding to take advantage of international opportunities, etc. So it’s hard but we’ve become pretty resourceful over the years, and we’re always trying to improve the way we work to make ourselves more efficient.

LJN: Are there bands which inspired you to start Beats &Pieces?

BC: I guess I was inspired to start making music of my own by hearing Acoustic Ladyland and checking out other related bands like Polar Bear, and realising for the first time that it was completely valid to be influenced by punk rock, electronica or whatever as well as by the jazz canon. Around the same time in the RNCM big band we played some charts by Maria Schneider and Colin Towns that had similarly diverse influences, and that made me think about the idea of approaching a big band in a different way just as Acoustic Ladyland had approached a traditional saxophone-led quartet in a different way.

Also (and perhaps crucially) the RNCM had a big band composition prize worth £100 that didn’t have any entries the previous year, so I thought I’d write a piece as I really could’ve done with the £100 at the time. Unfortunately there was one other entry that year, and I came second of two… We still play that piece in our live set today though so it worked out OK in the end, although I’ve probably still not earned £100 out of it.

LJN: How do you think the band’s music has developed since it started? Where do you see it going in the future?

BC: I think that our second album All In is a development from our first (Big Ideas) in terms of my composing and arranging, maybe as a result of other bits of orchestral arranging work I’ve done for artists in a wide variety of genres. I think the arrangements on All In are more intricate and precise, which the band initially weren’t so impressed with especially when I asked them to learn everything from memory! We recently did five gigs in a row on tour in Europe and by the end of that I thought the band sounded the best it has ever sounded. We’ve already been rehearsing new tunes since the end of last year thanks to the generous support of the PRS for Music Foundation, and I’m really looking forward to recording later this year for album three.(pp)

Also appearing at Kings Place on June 25th: Let Spin

LINK: BOOKINGS for Beats & Pieces + Johnny Hunter Quartet + Let Spin, including the launch of the Johnny Hunter Quartet’s debut album While We Still Can - at Kings Place on Saturday, June 25.

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