(gorgeous big) Horns with a Hart; Concerto for Guitar & Jazz Orchestra, Wiltshire Music Centre, Saturday 28th April

I should have called this post ‘in praise of Mike Daniels’ (but I’m not writing an editorial for a certain liberal left leaning newspaper). This performance of Paul Hart’s concerto, originally written with guitarist John Williams in mind and performed by NYJO in the mid -eighties, was revived for this performance through GBH musical director Mike’s persistence, dedication and yes – love, of creating magical musical moments (m,m&m s?) and this concerto in particular. He relates experiencing one of the original performances of the three movement piece and the exhilaration of love at first hearing. We might all understand  that, but hats off to the single mindedness that persuaded the big band to tackle it, cajoled the additional guests to augment the band (Dale Hambridge on piano, Adam Biggs synths, drummer Mark whitlam vibes and GBH semi regulars Nick Malcolm, Johny Bruce, Simon Marsh as well as some French Horns and an additional brass section that played from the back of the auditorium) and convinced soloist on guitar Denian Arcoleo, who has returned in recent years to performing and recording on classical guitar,  to take on the challenge of a part which whilst written throughout was artfully constructed to sound spontaneous and improvised (original soloist John Williams was a feted classical guitar player but not an improvising jazz musician).  So after a quick limber up on a classic big band chart of ‘On the street where you live’ the augmented GBH launched into the 40 minute concerto.

The three movements take the listener on a journey through a variety of moods. The first had a series of repetitive figures and patterns interrupted by big band riffs and more textural passages. The second, quieter movement provided the standout moments of the evening with a moody intro dissolving into an unaccompanied passage on vibes, Mark Whitlam making the most of the opportunity to improvise with the rythmn as well as the open single chord marked in the score before a rocky ballad emerged sounding for all the world like an orchestrated Pat Metheny tune complete with soaring solo from John Diver on electric guitar. The final movement had another dazzling improvisation, this time from Dale Hambridge on piano before an uproarious ending. This was a rousing performance. There were a few moments when the horns going full throttle overwhelmed the more delicate tones of the guitar, but the result was very affecting. That second movement provided the best moments, but as a piece of writing overall I wasn’t completely convinced by Paul Hart’s concerto. There were lots of attention grabbing ideas, riffs and figures. Perhaps there were too many without any being really developed and instead a few slack moments before the next idea kicked in.

MD Mike had chosen a great selection of tunes for the second set to complement the first with compositions and chart from Maria Schneider (Greenpiece), Quincy Jones (Quintessence) and Pat Metheny (A place in the world) as well as some more conventional if no less challenging fare including the overture from Ellington’s Nutcracker suite. These variously gave Nick Malcolm, Simon Marsh and Dale Hambridge particularly the chance to show why their respective reputations are continuing to grow as fluent and creative improvisers. And long may GBH with the prodding and tough love of Mike Daniels continue to challenge themselves and provide great evenings like this one.

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