REVIEW: Laura Jurd;s Dinosaur, Daniel Herskedal, BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall,

Sound-check in the Royal Festival Hall

Laura Jurd, Daniel Herskedal, BBC Concert Orchestra
(Royal Festival Hall, 19th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival, Review by Jon Turney.)

Jazz and the BBC have long had an uneasy relationship, and on the evidence of this gig you might say the same about the BBC Concert Orchestra. They can do the classical side of a classical-jazz mash-up perfectly well. But they fall into the familiar pitfall of such projects: they have no real concept of swing.

That presented a challenge to the two lucky, or maybe not so lucky, young rising stars commissioned to write new pieces for what was billed as a thrillingly experimental occasion. What could they do with a full orchestra that would add value to their normal vehicles of expression?

Laura Jurd, first up, perhaps had the advantage. With her three cohorts from Dinosaur at stage front, she at least had Conor Chaplin to carry a simple bass line. The band works with quite thick, Milesian textures, and she sensibly thinned these out to blend with the larger ensemble, producing, in effect, a mini concerto for trumpet and orchestra. Jurd played crisp lines that soared gracefully over the top of the mix, or abrupt interjections that grabbed the attention, while Corrie Dick enlivened the rhythm from the drum stool. Chaplin and keyboard player Elliot Galvin had more to contribute, though, when the four played a second piece sans orchestra, which allowed a glimpse of a different level of jazz interaction altogether.

The orchestra’s own attempt to be jazzy followed. Bernstein’s three dance episodes from On the Town, don’t wear particularly well – they seemed rather stodgy confections, sounding like 1940s jazz pastiche at best, and rhythmically uninspired. Then it was Daniel Herksedal’s turn to show what the young generation could do. He began with his trio, showcasing his always astonishing extended tuba technique and ability to conjure up new sound worlds – as displayed when he brought his richly ambitious suite Slow Eastbound Train to last year’s LJF (Reviewed) .

His new work was a set of four short pieces, which delved into more conventional orchestral writing, and his own classical background, “my musical history”, as he put it. Switching between bass trumpet and tuba, his playing seemed to lose its distinctiveness in this setting, and the orchestral setting dominated rather than complementing the trio. Each piece had its moments, but never quite achieved enough lift for take-off.

Experiencing this mixed bag while glancing at a flyer that promised exciting young composers who would “twist and destroy conventions” made one feel that, while BBC support for a jazz festival is always welcome, it would be even more so if they ran to a commission for jazz composers’ own choice of players rather than using the in-house band.

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