Freeh Spirit Brett Baker (Trombone) with Reg Vardy Band conducted by Ray Farr – Reviewed by Steve Jack 4barsrest

Brett Baker is to the trombone what Steven Mead is to the euphonium: Both have back catalogues as long as your arm thanks to their ever inventive ability to step outside the traditional confines of brass band repertoire.

New horizons

As he enters his thirteenth year with Black Dyke, Brett continues to seek new musical horizons and this latest release finds him in mainly ‘big band’ mood as he tackles new arrangements of classic Americana by Mark Freeh.

The list of the composers featured reads like a who’s who of cool: Mancini, Gershwin, Riddle, Barry and Carmichael have written some pretty great stuff over the years – and that effortless, easy listening class permeates the uncomplicated melodies, which Freeh has structured in some top notch arrangements.

Mood music

From the opening, ‘All the Things You Are’, the soloist captures the mood; thundering out Jerome Kerns 1939 hit before settling down to some more refined, languid items.

‘Moonlight in Vermont’ and ‘Stella by Starlight’ are relaxed and serene whilst‘Dreamsville’ is played in the Lusher style of almost perfect untroubled ease. 

Upping the tempo, ‘The Green Bee’ was originally set to be the theme for the ‘Green Hornet’ TV series but ultimately never used. Baker uses his skill and dexterity to pull off what was originally a transcription for 21 trombones!


There are three ‘classic’ solos featured; each highlighting a more conventional soloistic approach.

Arthur Pryor’s ‘Air Varie’ is typical of the turn of the century ‘music hall’ solo, as is‘Phenomenal Polka’ by Frederick Innes, the ‘Paganini of the Trombone’ as the excellent sleeve notes tell us: The soloist delivers both in exceptional impersonations.

Meanwhile, ‘Danza Allegre’, which rounds the disc off, brings back memories of Carole Dawn Reinhart at the National concert some 36 years ago, with Brett producing an arguably more precise, outstanding performance.

Lick of paint

Some pieces have been arranged previously, but find new transformations here: ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and the equally well-known ‘Stardust’ are given a welcome fresh lick of musical paint.

There are one or two items that don’t quite work though – with ‘Walking the Dog’ and‘You Only Live Twice’ more band items with trombone and rather than the other way round. It does take away a little of the gloss from the soloist.

Less is more

Throughout, the Reg Vardy Band does an admirable job of the accompanying duties, led by Ray Farr, who directs as if he could lead this sort of music all day long – a cracking example of knowing when less is more.

The only major gripe is the recording which sounds as if it was made in a broom cupboard.


It’s that close, with the engineer trying to get some life out of what sounds like a very stubborn acoustic. It’s a real shame as it spoils what could have been an exceptional recording.

However, if you can live with it, this is still a very enjoyable addition to the CV of one of the banding movement’s great musical explorers

Steve Jack

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