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Today

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Monday, October 12, 2015

CD Review: Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra – Drama

(Review by Russell)
The Mask Orchestra’s new album, the seventh release in its quarter century existence, is a sprawling work across two discs drawing inspiration from the world of theatre. The CD is Colin Towns’ response, and contribution to, major British theatre productions. Drama – a succinct title – is realised by a wonderful array of British jazz talent. Veteran, established and emerging names are to be found in all sections of the band which must make life a lot easier for the bandleader as he writes material knowing that he can call upon some of the finest musicians available to him.      
Colin Towns stated it was important that the musicians knew the synopsis of each play so they would have an understanding of the composer’s inspirations and intentions. Meeting theatre director Terry Hands opened doors for Towns; visiting theatres, discovering many texts and ultimately collaborating with directors.
Drama opens with classic works; Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The compositions feature a raft of soloists, the latter hears Julian Siegel’s baritone motif with a firing trumpet section behind him. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead has a demonic sense of fun about it (Andrew McCormack, piano), Equus a Modernist filmic/theatrical quality. Arrangements throughout are never too far from suggesting a sense of urgency. Hysteria (Terry Johnson, playwright) closes the first CD with a three way tenor exchange between Tim Garland, Nigel Hitchcock and Julian Siegel.
Two of Peter Shaffer’s plays make it onto the recording, Equus, on disc one, and on disc two The Royal Hunt of the Sun. The music for the latter takes as its starting point the Art Sphere Theatre, Tokyo production (Terry Hands, director, 1994). Percussionists Stephan Maass and Joji Hirota duel (opening and closing the composition), Gateshead born Chris Montague, a singular emerging guitar talent, suggests an Americana feel, and Peter King has a blast on soprano giving way to the orchestra’s tumbling momentous finale.
Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would suggest all things American and it doesn’t disappoint. Barnaby Dickinson (or is it Jack Nicholson?) plays crazy trombone as Peter King switches to alto, Montague finds a disturbing chord or three and the ensemble
retains a collective sanity amidst institutional bells, alarms and on-street sirens. Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen (Emma Lucia, director, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, 2013) doesn’t allow a slackening of the pace with more superb, frantic ensemble work featuring the trumpets of Rory Simmons, George Hogg and Graham Russell. Jane Eyre offers some respite; Simon Allen’s soprano solo a calming influence.
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (Terry Hands, director, 2003) comes in at nineteen minutes and forty nine seconds. The composition features so many soloists it is easier to indicate that almost all step up; a proud brass band emerges expertly combining the sounds of the British colliery band and a French Quarter marching band. Veteran Alan Skidmore, tenor, leads the way for the reeds, a contemporary big band at its best.
Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra has three concert dates this week: Thursday 15 Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music, Friday 16 Southampton, Turner Sims Hall and at LSO St Luke’s, London, Saturday 17. Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra Drama is out now on Provocateur Records PVC1044.       
Russell.          
George Hogg, Graham Russell, Henry Lowther, Rory Simmons (Trumpet/flugelhorn)Barnaby Dickinson, Tom White, Harry Brown, Roger Williams (trombone); Peter King, Simon Allen (alto/soprano); Tim Garland, Alan Skidmore, Nigel Hitchcock (tenor/soprano); Julian Siegel (baritone/tenor/soprano/bass clarinet/clarinet/flute); Stephan Maass (percussion/electronic percussion); Andrew McCormack (piano); Arnd Geise (bass); Chris Montague (guitar); Ralph Salmins (drums);  Colin Towns (keys); Joji Hirota (percussion).    

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