Album: ALL IN
Label: Efpi Records
Released: 8th June 2015
LIVE: Tuesday 7th July – Soup Kitchen, Manchester
LIVE: Wednesday 8th July – Ronnie Scott’s, London
“They couple gale-force collective energy and confidence to startlingly original material (most of it by its rising-star leader Ben Cottrell) that acknowledges big-band traditions while radically modernising them” The Guardian
“Their performance would have reassured anyone who wonders whether the big band tradition can connect with a twenty something audience that knows its Radiohead but thinks that Stan Kenton is probably a window-cleaner in Coronation Street” The Times
“There hasn’t been a ‘live’ British big band since Loose Tubes with the same degree of energetic spontaneity and enjoyment of performing as this one” Jazzwise
Led by composer and conductor Ben Cottrell, Beats & Pieces Big Band see themselves as a band that happens to be big, rather than your average ‘big band’. They’re an extremely tightknit bunch, meeting as students in Manchester and growing up and developing musically individually and collectively within the city’s exciting scene. First playing together as Beats & Pieces in 2008, today these fourteen musicians know each other inside out socially and musically, and this familiarity is part of what sets them aside from a lot of other big bands today. The music is an expression of the band’s members and their varied musical backgrounds and activities, all brought together in Ben Cottrell’s inspired writing. His compositions reflect the diversity of music that people of their generation have grown up surrounded by, and as such are influenced as much by Michael Jackson, Björk or Radiohead as they are Duke Ellington, Gil Evans or Loose Tubes.
The band’s debut album Big Ideas was released to critical acclaim in March 2012 on Efpi Records, a small Manchester-based label co-run by Ben and Beats & Pieces guitarist Anton Hunter. Since then, Beats & Pieces have performed in Ireland, Germany, France and Norway; received airplay on BBC Radio 2, Radio 3 and 6music; and received awards for Best UK Newcomer at the 2013 Jazz FM Awards and Ensemble of the Year at the 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Now the band’s eagerly awaited follow-up ALL IN is set to take their music to an even wider audience.
The title ALL IN reflects the band’s tightness as a social and musical unit, as well as referring to their ‘all in’ attitude to performance that leads to their famously energetic and vibrant gigs. The band are also very much ‘all in’ in the financial sense – taking a fourteen piece band on the road in this current climate of cuts to arts funding in the UK is no small undertaking.
ALL IN was recorded over four days in January 2014 at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Wiltshire. It was tracked almost entirely live with few overdubs and with the whole band in the same large room, ensuring everyone was in visual contact with everybody else at all times to create as much of an on-stage feel as possible within the studio environment. The resulting visceral energy brings the recording vividly to life.
All but one of ALL IN’s seven tracks were composed and arranged by Ben Cottrell, the exception being a version of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, reapproached and rearranged by Ben in his unique voice. Following a primal statement of intent from drummer Finlay Panter, the album opens with the short but intensely punchy rocky, which gives band and listener alike an intense workout to match anything ever faced by the most famous Rocky of them all. The captivating and catchy pop features fine work from Nick Walters on trumpet, and is influenced by the reliably consistent snare drum repetitions regularly found in 80s pop hits, such as many of Quincy Jones’ productions for Michael Jackson. The beguiling rain is based around a repetitive Rhodes riff inspired by Steve Reich’s pioneering and powerful work It’s Gonna Rain, and later features some astonishing ensemble work in the build up to the final climax – something that is even more impressive when experienced live. The centrepiece of the album is havmann (the man from the sea), named after an Antony Gormley statue that stands in a fjord in Mo í Rana in Northern Norway, where Ben first workshopped the piece with Norwegian band Ensemble Denada (for whom the piece was initially composed). The track features an extended flugelhorn solo from Graham South and showcases the ensemble’s wide range of expression, colours and textures over the course of ten and a half minutes. The barnstorming hendo has quickly become a live favourite and it is easy to see why. A dance inspired ‘four to the floor’ drum beat masks a number of complex rhythmic relationships, all topped off with a typically dynamic soprano saxophone solo from Sam Healey. Cottrell’s sublime, languid arrangement of Let’s Dance finds hidden subtleties and possibilities in Bowie’s classic pop hit before the album closes with the wistful fairytale, a vehicle for the beautiful and heartfelt sounds of the band’s horn section and providing a fitting coda to one of the year’s standout albums.
“What really marked this gig as something special was its sheer generosity. The ideas and moods came thick and fast, each one so brilliantly vivid that you wanted it to go on, even while enjoying the leap to something new. This band’s achievement is already astonishing, but they’ll surely go further.” The Daily Telegraph