REVIEW: Stan Sulzmann Neon Orchestra at Karamel N22

Stan Sulzmann (left) and Neon Orchestra at Karamel
Photo credit: Billy Marrows


Stan Sulzmann's Neon Orchestra 
(Karamel N22. 21 September 2017. Review by Brian Blain)

What a magnificent night , last Thursday, at Wood Green's Karamel Club when Stan Sulzmann's 19/20 piece Neon Orchestra gave a much-needed boost to drummer Stu Butterfield's weekly presentations.

It was almost certain that there were one or two deputies in the band's ranks, but from the spine-tingling brass flares on the opening theme leading into into complex writing with lines and counter lines locking in, sometimes sweet sometimes dissonant harmonies....such is the astonishingly high standard of the much younger players that the composer/saxophonist leader surrounds himself with, that if there was an occasional glitch it went completely undetected. Indeed, if the opening dramatic phrases were like the shock of being plunged into a cold, icy stream on a hot summer's day as the evening progressed and that necessary loose feeling crept into the music more and more we really began to feel that we were in Big Band -sorry, Orchestral - heaven.

So much to take in , and so many new faces to admire. Trumpeter Freddie Gavita was one, although if you get out much at all he is becoming one of the in demand brass players around and you are very likely to have caught him leading his own small group. Totally fresh to me and right in that modern/mainstream pocket with a lightish tone that made me think of Zoot Sims, was tenor Alex Hitchcock who was right in my comfort zone on a lazy, laid back gospel bluesy piece, Westerly which sounded almost traditional compared with most of Sulzmann's material. Another surprise: on the penultimate piece, Chu Chu, ayoung alto player put down a strong marker for the future. His name? Matt Sulzmann. How tremendous it must feel to know that someone so talented is following in Dad's footsteps.

The almost classically elegant piano of Nikki Iles produced soothing balm sandwiched between the two fiery complementary sections of alonger piece , Up and Down. Vignettes abounded from established players such as Henry Lowther (up for a Parliamentary Award-vote), Martin Hathaway and Pete Hurt, tenor pillar of many a band but it was especially good to see a grey head leading the trombone section the great Gordon Campbell veteran of a thousand BBC Big Band and freelance studio sessions.The really good guys never lose their taste for a challenge and so much of Sulzmann's material does just that. There was a nice tribute to the late and really great arranger Steve Gray, when the saxophone playing leader called Bacharach's You'll Never Get To Heaven, and as with all Burt's stuff, a lovely melody, just right as we could feel the evening drawing towards its close.

In the rhythm section along with Ms Iles, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Tim Giles frequently produced gentle Latin influenced grooves that were both subtle-eschewing familiar jazz bossa and samba beats-and propulsive enough to power this amazing Orchestra. And just one last accolade; for the MD Nick Smart who held the whole thing together with his dynamic conducting, thus allowing the main man to get on with what he does so brilliantly, playing his saxophone alongside the section. There will be another outing in November at the 606; keep your eyes peeled.

SAXOPHONES : Martin Hathaway, Matt Sulzmann, Alex Hitchcock, Pete Hurt, James Allsopp
TRUMPETS : Tom Walsh , Reuben Fowler, Henry Lowther , Freddie Gavita
TROMBONES : Ollie Martin, Gordon Campbell, Robbie Harvey, Sarah Williams
PIANO-- Nikki Iles
VIBES-- Ralph Wyld
GUITAR-- Nicholas Costley-White
BASS -- Conor Chaplin
DRUMS --Tim Giles
CONDUCTOR: Nick Smart

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