Jazz Meets Bristol Symphony featruing

Gareth Lockrane Quartet and Dakhla Brass

Review by Tony Benjamin of Bristol 24/7

Clifton Cathedral 22nd June 2019

It was an interesting collision of cultures, this, bringing jazz and classical music together in the ecclesiastical grandeur of Clifton’s modernist cathedral. It led to the moment when, halfway through the poignant Heartache and Loneliness, Dakhla Brass drummer Matt Brown gave BSOconductor Will Goodchild a cheeky ‘1,2,3,4…’ count. What would Sir Henry Wood have said to that?

The Jazz Meets Bristol Symphony idea, initiated by Will, has been to give contemporary jazz outfits the opportunity to expand their music through orchestral arrangements. The music of Dakhla Brass is itself very tightly composed for the six players, albeit to include passages of solo spontaneity, and thus lent itself well to the expanded sound palette on offer. The results often interestingly altered the feel of the original tunes – the lush strings sweetened Insomnia Sonia’s disjointed structure, while the pulsing bass and cello part brought out the suppressed tango ofZenith and Nadir. Both numbers beautifully showcased Charlotte Ostafew‘s gravelly baritone sax improvisations.

The need to incorporate more ambitious arrangements inevitably compromised some of Dakhla’s jazziness but when both elements came together in the epic One Wicker Wisp the music was superb. Building steadily in layers from a bassoon duet to a full string and brass sweep the orchestral undertow lifted Pete Judge’s modal trumpet exploration.  From that emerged the song’s brisk rolling riff and Eastern-flavoured melody which expanded further into an eventual triumphant coda. The big ovation that followed was clear evidence of the performance’s success.

For his opening number flautist Gareth Lockrane set out his wares by starting big, playing the distinctively curved bass flute, and then moved through alto and concert flutes to finish with the shrill piccolo. As a big band leader and composer himself, and with composer/arranger Kate Williams also contributing scores there was a wide range of sonic ideas on offer in his set. Spring Is Here for instance, blended Dave Smith’s brush drumming with orchestral percussion while impeccably smooth Flamenco violins wove around Kate’s arpeggio piano and a trillingly high harp part. There was even a nod to Stravinsky in Gareth’s evocative flute – and all that was just an intro to the very jazzy workout which followed.

Kate’s Soon Enough began with Japanese-sounding flutes from the orchestra against a minimalist piano and a light-touch, melodic bass solo from Will Harris. The resonance of the bass ran through the piece, growing through the orchestra’s bowed cello and bass section to provide a rich string chorale for the piece’s close. Probably the most fun for all concerned, though, came in Do It, the briskly funky closing number where the band and the orchestra traded themes around Gareth’s crisply fluent flute and the inevitable tutti flourish ended with a bang.

For all that he stood at the front conducting it was typically magnanimous of Will Goodchild to have let the jazzers present the music (note to Gareth L – speak more slowly!), and he seemed well pleased with the outcome. Overall you could feel a continuity with the legacy of previous jazz orchestrations by Gil Evans, Quincy Jones and others – inevitable, perhaps, since jazz musicians had themselves arranged the pieces. Perhaps taking the idea a step further it might be interesting to also offer contemporary classical composers the chance to adapt jazz pieces in collaboration with their originators? This is a big project and it clearly has even bigger potential.

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