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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Jambone & Young Sinfonia @ Sage Gateshead – July 13


(Review by Chris)

A rare outing for the combined forces of the Sage Young Musicians Programme jazz orchestra Jambone, and conventional orchestra, Young Sinfonia, filling the stage of Sage One.  This was part of the culmination of the YMP year – their summer festival - and marked the latest milestone in the remarkable development of Jambone’s director, the composer and arranger extraordinaire, Paul Edis.   With two orchestras (12 strong Jambone, 27 for Sinfonia) packed with talent at his disposal,  Admiral Edis had written or arranged three contrasting pieces to send the fleet on manouevres for an hour or so. Was this to be jazz deluxe, or was it modern orchestral repertoire spiced with “improvisatory” elements, as the Sinfonia’s distinguished conductor, Karin Hendrickson warned the audience?  

Combining jazz (and rock) bands with orchestras has a chequered history, and bolting string sections onto jazz bands can also fall into the Mantovani trap.   Paul, of course, has ample experience avoiding such fails, most recently with the Ed Cross String Quartet added to his own quartet, so expectations were high for the world premiere of his four-movement work Thoughts, Words and Deeds.  From the programme notes, the work “reflects the importance and power of words in the Post-truth age and is inspired by themes of humanity, time, grief, nature and renewed hope”.  This lofty ambition was realised, as we were treated to a compelling and masterful use of a staggering range of texture, dynamics and interplay, ably delivered by first rate and responsive playing throughout every department.  
And there were tunes!  From the off, A Thought Can Split the World in Two took us on a journey bouncing lines expertly between sections and voices, followed by the sombre Too Sad for Words.  

And there was jazz!  Mostly through short but powerful solos, showcased by Hendrickson’s total control of dynamics bringing both bands down to a whisper, as one, sandwiched between full throttle tutti blasts.  

Textural games were played to the max in the third movement, Rain, opening with pitter-patter pizzicato, building to tumultuous thunderclaps generated by three drummers working flat out! The final movement, Time Will Tell, concluded on a more upbeat note, with strong melodic lines beautifully balanced between the Sinfonia sections and Jambone’s individual players.  

Next was a Sound of Music medley – more kitsch pitfalls to be avoided here, as well as the audience's varied expectations to be addressed!  I needn’t have worried, this turned out to be a most engaging romp through the fabulous Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes, but with some delightful jazz twists and turns thrown in to keep it all fresh. Highlights included a startling, gorgeous toned tenor solo by Zak Parlby on My Favorite Things and a fluid bop guitar solo by Tom Henerey (off to Birmingham next year).  The drama was ramped up with a double-time swing section,  driven by sure-footed double bass lines from Alex Shipsey – I won’t forget the concentration etched on his face in a hurry!  

But the star of this part of the show was Jambone’s vocalist, Emily McDermott.  She had the unenviable task of not only taking on Julie Andrews’ role, but bringing something new to the party.  Her understated approach lends itself well to the moody and poetic style of much of Jambone’s repertoire, including Thoughts, Words and Deeds.  It wasn’t clear how she would do the blockbuster stuff, but boy did she pull it off!  With crystal clear tone and diction, matched by effortless range, she not only convinced as she climbed every mountain, but brought humour and new twists and character to the old lyrics.   

The evening finished with Apologies to Brahms, another romp, re-interpreting his Hungarian Dance, complete with over the top chorus line “big kicks” treatment!

Altogether, a mind-blowing showcase of not only top class playing, conducting and interpretation, but also of imaginative writing and ingenious, challenging arrangements from Paul Edis, delivering his latest, largest project to date. It is truly baffling how he has the time and energy to do everything he does, to the standard he does.   My only complaint about the evening was that the audience wasn’t bigger so that more people could enjoy the (free!) show, and the players and directors could get the wider exposure they deserve.

Chris Kilsby

Images © Sage Youth Music Programme twitter feed.

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