Although Brett Baker now has an impressive catalogue of solo CDs behind him, his more recent offerings have largely revolved around the exploration and unearthing of neglected or lost repertoire from bygone eras.
All the more reason then that his latest release, Myths and Legends, makes for a welcome change of direction in its presentation of recent works by an array of talented contemporary composers, the majority of whom will be well known to brass band enthusiasts.
With accompaniment by Flowers Band and aided by several well-known guests, the format is what rock fans of a certain era might describe as a concept album – a series of individual works connected only by their programmatic and occasionally tenuous associations with myth and legend, bound together by a series of musical transitions created by Christopher Bond, whose by turns dramatic and haunting The Fire and The Phoenix also opens the CD.
A total of 12 pieces make up what is a generously filled 74-minute disc, some works making a greater impression than others. What is never in question, however, is the soloist’s commitment, technical prowess and lyrical gifts, all of which are given full rein and Brett Baker is at the height of his powers throughout.
Andrew Mackereth’s extended and emotionally engaging Divine Odyssey, music written in homage to Ray Steadman-Allen’s The Enternal Quest, Richard Rock’s headlong and perilously exciting The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the cinematic sounds of Dan Price’s Cloud Rider are amongst the pieces that engage immediately although, for all its melodious attraction, Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Slipstream is, perhaps, a puzzling inclusion, given its apparent absence of programmatic connotations in the context of what surrounds it.
Despite the adrenalin and rhythmically-fuelled nature of some of the more substantial pieces however, it is the more refined and unusual sounds of Andrea Price’s From a Kingdom of Clouds and Lucy Pankhurst’s intriguingly titled M6 Troll that make for, arguably, the most musically compelling and ‘ear-opening’ moments.
In the former piece, Brett Baker sings a gentle, increasingly elaborate melody over a delicate, evocative marimba accompaniment played with sensitivity by the composer herself, whilst Lucy Pankhurst’s piece employs a backing track of largely white and environmental noise, against which the soloist dispatches a virtuosic solo part employing a range of extended techniques to conjure a troll inhabiting land around the M6.
It makes for a fascinatingly surreal musical experience. As both a showcase for a variety of young composers, as well as of Brett Baker’s versatility as a trombonist, this is an entertaining and enterprising disc that rewards repeated listening.