Brett Baker's prowess as a performer is consolidated in this attractive and wide-ranging new release. It also re-affirms his commitment to the development of the trombone's solo repertoire with brass band – not simply to commission and play once, but to promote the music he believes in through recordings and concert tours. No fewer than six of the 11 tracks are receiving premiere recordings, which is most impressive.
While this is a wide-ranging album in terms both of scale and style, there is a strong Latin-American theme running through it. Ralph Pearce's Four miles from Texas (2006) is a tribute to Brett's father, Billy, who was a country and western singer. It's a fun piece, beginning with a fiendish cadenza (full of lip glissandi), moving into a deliberately ‘over the top' pastiche of a ballad and ending, after doffing the cap to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, to a Bluegrass fiddle finish. Brett's helter-skelter virtuosity is breathtaking – Arthur Pryor would have been proud.
Peter Meechan's Scene from Silver Plate was originally written for trombone duet, but here Brett shares the limelight with various other members of the band, principally solo euphonium and bass trombone. The work is strong on character and narrative, complete with seductive tangos and ‘chase' music. By the way, the music has nothing to do with silver plated brass instruments, but the fictional treasure trove mountain range Sierra del Plata from which the mighty Rio de la Plata takes its name.
The title track, Summon the Rhythm (2009) by Tom Davoren, takes its inspiration from one facet of South American myth, magic and mystery – Shamanism. As the composer writes in his note, ‘The role of Shaman is that of a spiritual healer. Rhythm plays an important part in Shamanic ritual with a strong emphasis on chanting, dance and natural sounds.' His colourful interpretation ends in a whirlwind dance, based on tango rhythms, engagingly delivered by soloist and band.
The most substantial and serious work recorded here is the 20-minute Excursions for Trombone (2006) by Marc Owen. It was originally composed with piano and comprised ten brief, highly-contrasting character pieces with the subtitle Jottings from a Journey. Marc Owen's original idea was that they should be a ‘pick-and-mix' selection of encore style miniatures. The nine movements recorded here with full brass band accompaniment transform the original concept into a work of concerto length. Hearing all nine pieces in sequence does present some problems of formal balance and coherence. There is enough material here for two sizeable suites. For example, there is an air of finality about the incisive sixth number, Jaunt, so that the following piece – the virtuoso tour-de-force Dance Macabre – sounds like the start of a new work. Excursions is an eclectic stylistic mix, and an impressive journey of the imagination. Each short piece demands an instant characterisation, which soloist, band and conductor take in their stride. The composer could not have wished for more persuasive advocates.
Darrol Barry's Concerto (2006) is more economical in its material, though no less demanding to perform. The first of its three movements contrasts the trombone's heroic and lyrical ‘personalities' with a Latin pulse provided by the band. The long lilting cantabile lines of the flowing second movement are beautifully shaped by the soloist and flugel horn. There is a haunting quality to this movement bringing to mind similar moments in Malcolm Arnold's concert music. Brett's great agility and commanding high register are profiled in the jovial finale.
The sumptuous oriental colours of Rimsky-Korsakoff's Song of India (from his opera, Sadko, 1898) went round the world in the 1940s and 50s, thanks to three historic recordings – beautifully sung in the original Russian by tenor Jussi Bj�rling, passionately delivered in English by Mario Lanza in full Hollywood technicolour, and in the fabulous up-tempo treatment of the Tommy Dorsey Band. Add to that a fourth! Bill Geldard's new ballad version for trombone and band is relaxed and silky smooth, finding Brett at his lyrical best.
Ray Steadman-Allen's ballad treatment of the SA Larsson/Gowans classic Someone Cares, transfers well from the cornet original to trombone given the legendary control of Brett's high register. Sweet Nightingale (Goff Richards), the Streisand favourite, Evergreen, and Ray Farr's arrangement of Why Did I Choose You? are the other items in ballad style.
British Bandsman, Saturday 13th November 2010
The album opens with a joyful tribute to the recording engineer and editor, Mike Moor, whose death in 2009 robbed the brass band world of one of its finest and skilful servants – 37 years and over 200 titles for the Polyphonic label. Philip Sparke's lively Capriccio, sparklingly played, captures Mike Moor's energy and enthusiasm to a tee. Mike might have ‘miked- up' Brett a little closer in the mix at times, but he would surely have admired the depth of the overall sound and the perspective on the excellent band.