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Born This Day
Louis Armstrong and Steve Andrews.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Beats & Pieces Big Band @ RNCM, Manchester – Jan 27

(Review by Russell).
Manchester was cold but dry, the city centre pavements wet, recent rain moving east to, and over, the Pennines. The RNCM was a hive of activity, musicians young and old rushing to, or returning from, a Saturday morning/afternoon class. Rehearsal studios were fully occupied, one room, no.1, was occupied, but, intriguingly, events in the room were a closely guarded secret, so much so the staff on reception knew nothing about the matter…     
Ten years to the day, the same location, the exact same studio space, they assembled to play the music of Ben Cottrell. Beats & Pieces first met a decade ago in Studio 1, a basement space at the Royal Northern College of Music. On that occasion it was a first-ever rehearsal session, ten years on it was to be a two-gigs-in-a-day celebration of the band’s music during the intervening years.  

An ‘invitation only’ audience found its way to Studio 1 where the few available seats would quickly be occupied. Beats & Pieces were to play two gigs (one in the afternoon, one in the evening) and would document the occasion with the intention of releasing an audio/visual ‘package’ (download/physical product) sometime later in the year. Camera operators would move around the room, the performance slightly different than usual as Cottrell paused between numbers to help facilitate the editing process. Typical of the band, the opening number was a new one. Noise bore the hallmarks of a Beats & Pieces chart; the band – all fourteen of them – decidedly shies away from the tag ‘big band’, there just happens to be quite a few of them, as first they twisted, then turned, bandleader Cottrell dancing to the beat, Nick Walters, trumpet, taking a first solo.

A strange – or was it an understandably inhibited? – lack of applause greeted solo contributions by members of the band…perhaps the audience didn’t want to make a noise during the performance, perhaps it should have done, after all this was a ‘live’ recording! Two numbers from the ‘old days’ – none in the band could remotely be described as ‘old’ – Jazzwalk and Three turned up the wick as Ollie Dover on alto ripped it up with guitarist Anton Hunter creating an electronic framework via the effective deployment of an array of pedals. Pianist Richard Jones played piano and Fender Rhodes making several solo contributions as another new one in the pad – Wait – heard killing tenor from Anthony Brown (later to be heard blowing equally killing soprano), and Time (which will be released as a single) featured lynchpin drummer Finlay Panter and the trumpet playing of Graham South.

MD Cottrell rarely faces his audience, perhaps born of shyness, preferring to engage with the band as he dances, cajoling and gesticulating. From time to time he straps on a guitar contributing colour and rhythm to the piece in hand, leaving the clever stuff to Hunter. Cottrell revealed that at that first rehearsal session ten years ago the very first tune they played was Toan. Ten years on they had to play it; Panter’s shuffle to swing time, Brown’s hard blowing soprano, and a stunning feature for the three-strong trombones – Richard Foote, Simon Lodge and bass ’bone man Richard McVeigh. The forthcoming new album is bound to include this one! Ben Cottrell thanked the band for keeping the show on the road for the first ten years and they went out on Fairytale with its superb work from the brass boys and Hendo featuring once again the soprano saxophone of Ollie Dover.

Ben Cottrell’s Beats & Pieces Big Band is in the vanguard of today’s big band scene. It would be a pleasure to attend the twentieth-anniversary celebrations. The date’s in the diary: January 27, 2028.
Russell.                           

Beats & Pieces Big Band: Ben Cottrell (MD & guitar); Anthony Brown (tenor & soprano saxophones); Ollie Dover (alto & soprano saxophones); Tom Ward (baritone saxophone); Nick Walters (trumpet); Owen Bryce (trumpet); Graham South (trumpet); Richard Foote (trombone); Simon Lodge (trombone); Richard McVeigh (bass trombone); Anton Hunter (guitar); Richard Jones (piano & Fender Rhodes); Stewart Wilson (bass & double bass); Finlay Panter (drums)

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