Oxted Band and Brett Baker in Concert, St John’s Church, Hurst Green, 26 April 2014

Oxted Band’s latest concert in their ‘Stars of Brass’ series continued their tradition of a thoroughly entertaining evening and outstanding brass playing. In a full St John’s, the band featured the principal trombone from the world famous Black Dyke band, Brett Baker. Over the years the ‘Stars of Brass’ series has featured a long line of the most outstanding instrumentalists but clearly Oxted Band has a special affection for Brett Baker for he is the only soloist to be asked back.

Oxted Band presented a varied programme: the familiar and the new classical forms , blended with esoteric jazz and featuring their prize winning brass ensemble and an augmented trombone choir. The band launched the evening with a crisp rendition of George Allen’s fine march ‘Knight Templar’. If that was expected fare, Oxted’s Musical Director, Martin Beaumont, plunged us straight into a completely unfamiliar Overture, Eliza E Claudio by Saverio Mercadante. A contemporary of Rossini, Mercadante was famous in his own lifetime but is now forgotten, unfairly so if this charming piece is representative of his music. The MD changed the style again with Fernie’s foot-tapping arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ and closed the first half with Dave Brubeck’s challenging ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’.

The band had set the scene for a superstar soloist and from the first bars of ‘Atlantic Zephyr’s’ the audience knew why they had to be at the top of their game. Brett Baker has set new standards for trombone playing and commissioned swathes of new repertoire during his time with the Fairey Band and 15 years of sell out concerts with Black Dyke. His elegant legato and rich tone filled the church; an effortless technique seemed to touch the stars and the depths of the oceans. As he moved into Mark Freeh’s version of Irving Gordon’s ‘Unforgettable’, it was more than understandable to forget how difficult these solos are to perform.

The second half began with the band’s small ensemble playing Sonatina by Denis Wright. It was commendable to find time to feature core players in the band and highlighted Wright’s great skill in composing tasteful original music. The full band returned with James Anderson’s sparkling march, ‘Goldcrest’ and Lloyd Webber’s evergreen ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’.

The final quarter of the evening was all about Brett and trombones. In Arthur Prior’s ‘Fantastic Polka’, Brett gave us a performance worthy of Sousa’s great soloist himself and left the audience on the edge of their seats. For this reviewer, the next piece was the Everest of high spots though. Any young trombonist growing up with the wonderful recordings of Urbie Green and his Twenty One Trombones would instantly recognise Freeh’s version of ‘You Only Live Twice’. Brett’s commissioned arrangement for trombone and band took no prisoners with the stratospheric melody line, effortlessly played – the man has the stamina of an Olympian.

There was still more to come: from remote parts of the band – and even the audience – instruments were assembled hastily to accompany Brett in ‘Mr Bojangle’ in a trombone tentet. The audience loved it! When the band walked off the stage after Langford’s tuneful North Country Fantasy only for the trombone section and Brett to lead into ‘Show me the way to go home’ complete with comedy stepladders, we knew there had to be more. The final encore, ‘You’ll be nice to come home to’, sent everyone home with a smile.

Mention should be made of the committed way that the band accompanied the soloist, never an easy job, but in the end players and audience applauded a true Star of Brass; Brett Baker.

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