REVIEW: Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir / Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Barbican Hall.

Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir
Barbican Hall. 23rd September. Review by Frank Griffith)

Iain Ballamy’s collaboration with the Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir with exquisite arrangements by Malcom Edmonstone took place at The Barbican on Friday 23rd September. The exemplary conducting of composer and veteran Guildhall Jazz Lecturer, Scott Stroman should not go unnoticed. Arriving in London in 1983, Indiana-born, Illinois-bred Stroman has been a formative figure in UK jazz education. His leadership of the jazz course commenced in 1987 and brought into being what has become an internationally recognised jazz course, where the idea of a centre of excellence continues to flourish: the extraordinary talents of the School's current students - from 1st year to post graduates -  all shone spectacularly.

Billed as Iain Ballamy’s 21st Century Pastoral the first half of the concert featured arrangements of Ballamy’s pieces by pianist and Head of Jazz, Malcolm Edmonstone as well as guitarist, Stuart Hall.

This was followed by the The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing works by Brahms and Walton. One might wonder as to why and how these seemingly disparate musical styles were programmed on the same bill but there are actual connections between the style. These were explored in a PREVIEW of the concert which noted that “the influence of jazz is well documented in the works of William Walton and jazz style rhythms, also strongly associated with Stravinsky, are self-evident in many of his works. Walton met many jazz musicians at the Savoy Theatre (in Harlem) and was known for his liking of music by Duke Ellington, Spike Hughes and Benny Goodman.”

The results of which were victorious in achieving a seamless articulation of idioms and sonorities in the two halves of the concert making for a delightful bouquet of large ensemble harmoniousness.

The music and the lyricism of Iain Ballamy were given depth and magic by the wondrous and larger-than-life arrangements of Edmonstone. These explored a range of colours and rhythmical grooves and changing metres. An expanded rhythm section included a kit drummer joined by four hand percussionists and seven guitarists (!) Speaking of which, two of Ballamy’s melodies were cleverly arranged by guitarist, Stuart Hall, for guitar ensemble and rhythm section. In addition to leading the group, Hall contributed some quirky and fiery solos of his own. This not only provided a welcome change of texture for the listener but presented yet another facet of Ballamy’s musical oeuvre. Hall’s harmonically updated treatment of Molly Malone certainly warmed the cockles and mussels of this listener's heart as well as providing an opportunity for several of the guitarists to let loose.

The primary figure of the evening though was Ballamy, of course. In addition to his excellent compositions exploring so many musical idioms his tenor sax scored highly as well. Possessing a rich and darkly sonorous tone he negotiated his way through the registers with both evenness and aplomb. His command of the horn is an inspiration to saxophonists and listeners alike, yet there is no hint of an icy or detached connection with the music. The warmth and melodic fluidity of his message reigned supreme at all times.

The pieces were from differing periods of Ballamy's career, and the inclusion and ordering of them helped the listener and  created a suite-like effect. This context gave a rounded and full perspective of a remarkable musician. Bravo to the Guildhall and Barbican for successfully marrying these musical idioms together as they clearly scored and resonated well. One looks forward to more initiatives like this in the future.

LINK: Interview with Iain Ballamy

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