CD REVIEW: Beats & Pieces Big Band – ten


Beats & Pieces Big Band – ten
(Efpi Records FP029 – CD/DVD review by Mark McKergow)

Led by composer/conductor Ben Cottrell, the Manchester-based Beats & Pieces Big Band celebrate their tenth anniversary with this specially-recorded live performance featuring a riot of grooves, beats, textures, shake-the-house brass riffing and quality soloing.

This is Beats & Pieces' fifth release, showing remarkable longevity for a group started by Cottrell at the Royal Northern College of Music to play music he’d written for big band. The history of the band, their musicians and gigs are all lovingly curated on the band’s website (link below) and it’s clear that this is a very personal project for Cottrell and his collaborators. This collection was recorded in front of an invited audience in the same RNCM space where it all started in 2008, superbly recorded and also filmed for DVD (available in the package which comes at a very reasonable price).

There are ten tracks on ten – surely no coincidence – and Cottrell himself leads off the opening track, nois, with a sharp guitar riff which is quickly picked up by other band members including drummer Finlay Panter. Panter shows all the qualities which the best modern drummers bring – a tight fluidity in bringing complex beat patterns to life with real subtlety, fine dynamics and listening attention.  Nick Walters takes the first of several featured solos on trumpet, and my ear is drawn not only to the fine soloing but the quality of the backing riffs, textures and sheer grunt produced by the other horns.  The line-up is three each of saxes, trumpets and trombones, with the ‘bone section of Richard Foote, Simon Lodge and Rich McVeigh playing a large part in underpinning the gorgeous beefy sound – their trio improvisation on toan is a joy.

Jazzwalk starts with Stewart Wilson’s bass rippling away (backed by Panter’s excellent light-touch drumming) with fine dynamics as Oliver Dover picks up another riff on alto sax before moving into his solo. The movement between lightness of space and full-on flair comes very naturally and smoothly here as thoughout the album. Watching the DVD, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the group are playing without parts or music stands (as would be normal for big band type shows) – all this is from memory, which surely accounts for the marvellous natural flow of the performance.

Jazzwalk turns out to be the longest of the track titles; Cottrell is clearly given to brevity in naming his tunes things like time, rain, pop, toan and so on – very different to the Django Bates generation of long and involved titles. This is in many ways a "next generation" project, taking from jazz tradition but also fearlessly drawing on 21st century influences from the dance floor and the film studio, taken in, internalised and brought forth as a very satisfying whole. As three reaches a climax we can see (thanks to the DVD) Anton Hunter attacking his electric guitar with a steel ruler as the band backs Walters’ trumpet with John Zorn-like fury before the whole ensemble coalesces into a rallentando to come down to a close.

If you enjoy large group jazz but are not yet familiar with Beats & Pieces, this is an excellent way to experience the band’s style both in sound and vision. I know from experience how much effort it takes to sustain a big ensemble, and Ben Cottrell is to be cheered to the rafters for not only getting this show onto the road ten years ago, but even more for keeping it there with growing confidence and output. Here’s to the next ten years!

Beats & Pieces Big Band:

Director – Ben Cottrell
Saxophones – Anthony Brown, Oliver Dover, Tom Ward
Trombones – Richard Foote, Simon Lodge, Rich McVeigh
Trumpets – Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters
Guitar – Anton Hunter
Piano/Rhodes – Richard Jones
Bass – Stewart Wilson
Drums – Finlay Panter

LINK: Bits & Pieces Big Band website

Recent LJN interview with Ben Cottrell

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