Tom Haines & The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra ‘Live’ (Private Press) 5/5

This album has been a true labour of love. It was funded, as is becoming increasingly common, with the aid of a Crowdfunder Project, whereby supporters of the band and its music were able to pledge money in return for various rewards ranging from a free download of the resultant album to having one’s name listed on the CD inlay as a contributor or even a 3-hour music lesson with Tom. Ultimately, the Crowdfunder target was exceeded and so now we are all able to enjoy the wonderful music that was recorded at Stratford Jazz on 7th December 2016. This date too is important as it marked the 30th Anniversary of Stratford Jazz, a venerable institution which now under the leadership of saxophonist Jay Riley and colleagues is going from strength to strength.

The Orchestra is the brainchild of trumpeter Sean Gibbs. All five compositions on the album come from the pen of Mr Haines who also conducts the assembled aggregation. Two of the compositions are award-winning pieces, and one of these, along with two others, received their UK Premiere in Stratford.

The Orchestra includes a mix of some of the more established musicians on the local scene, including Eliot Drew, Chris Young and John Fleming in the saxophone section, Sean Gibbs and Mike Adlington on the trumpets, Richard Foote, trombone and David Ferris on piano and the ubiquitous Jonathan Silk at the drums. Young whippersnappers making up the remainder of the Orchestra include Vittoria Mura on tenor sax and flute, trumpeter Tom Syson, who’s own excellent album is reviewed here and the guitarist who’s name is on everyone’s lips at the moment, Ben Lee.

So we have great compositions and an equally great Orchestra to interpret Tom’s work.

The opening piece ‘Yitzoid’ features unusual voicings for the instrumentalists and fine solo work from Young on alto saxophone and Gibbs on trumpet. The rhythm section, including Stuart Barker on double bass build up quite a head of steam as the tension mounts. In places I’m reminded of the work of Colin Towns, at others the memory of Loose Tubes is evoked.

‘Mystery Dog (Mr E. Dog)’ follows and clocking in at more than thirteen minutes is the longest piece on the album, but allows more than ample time for the musical delights to unfold, including a beautiful contribution from Drew on soprano sax. Later, as the tempo changes, we have muscular solos from Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone sax and Kieran McLeod on trombone.

‘Remembrance’ is next and is, perhaps, a conventional big band piece. We have considered solos from Ben Lee and Mike Adlington. This is a truly sumptuous piece of work.

Next is ‘Strange Utopia’ and my immediate thoughts were of Gil Evans’ earlier work. The tone and feel changes however as vocalist Rosie Harris is introduced and Lee and the rest of the rhythm team create an almost rock foundation for the quite delicate vocals to soar over. There follows an impassioned solo from John Fleming on tenor sax before the vocalist re-enters cushioned by piano and bass.

The final piece ‘Whistleblower’ sounds like it was great fun to play. Mura, Ferris and Silk are given a chance to shine on this to great effect.

The recorded sound is exemplary and it is very easy to forget that this is a live recording. The audience’s applause is often hard to discern.

This is an auspicious debut from a composer that I for one am keen to hear more from.

Alan Musson