The Fountain City Brass Band may be a mere stripling in musical
terms – it was formed in Kansas City as recently as 2002 – but
on the evidence of this disc they’ve matured into a fine ensemble.
Having taken the US by storm in 2007, FCBB really do have cause
to celebrate. Indeed, this programme is a well-chosen, entertaining
mix that should find many friends, even among those who don’t
usually warm to big, brassy displays.
And where better to start than with movie-meister John
Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, written to celebrate 100 years
of that iconic statue. The bright, ringing fanfares are simply
thrilling, even more so when set against the fog-horn calls
of the deep brass. There’s a freshness and spontaneity to the
playing that constantly reminds me of those pioneering Mercury
discs from Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble.
And the Doyen recording is excellent too, from the transported
trumpets to the brush of cymbals and shudder of bass drum.
Charles Anderson’s so-called ‘contest march’ O.R.B. –
which stands for its dedicatee, the Oldham Rifle Brigade – gets
a bravura performance as well, the band as deft and articulate
as one could hope for, although Joseph Turrin’s tribute
to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, is much too maudlin for
my tastes. That said, there’s a suitably dark splendour to the
playing that’s entirely apt. There’s virtuosity in the solos
too; Raquel Rodriquez gives a dazzling performance of Arban’s
cornet classic Carnival of Venice, played here in a satisfying
arrangement – one of many – by the FCBB’s Lee Harrelson. It’s
a mobile – if hackneyed – piece, but the stylish rendition by
Rodriquez makes it sound remarkably fresh and invigorating.
Philip Wilby’s Paganini Variations – based on the great
fiddler’s Caprice No. 24 for Solo Violin – was written
for the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Not surprisingly, it’s a
challenging piece that takes the players into new territory
in terms of dynamic shading and refined sonorities. One senses
a real air of concentration here, especially in those grave,
hymn-like sections, conductor Parisi coaxing a beautifully blended
sound from this heroic band. And what a splendid, Elgarian climax,
too. All very different from Mangione’s jazzy Land of Make
Believe, also arranged by Harrelson. It’s a lively, hip-swayer
of a piece that brought back memories of a much-played LP I
once owned of Mangione playing at the Hollywood Bowl.
Traditional tunes from Ireland don’t come more beautiful than
the Londonderry Air – perhaps better known as Danny
Boy – and Carrickfergus. The latter, played here
in an arrangement by Stephen Roberts, has seldom sounded so
heartfelt; indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous
euphonium sound anywhere. Really, Harrelson is an exceptional
player, the FCBB responding in breezy, big band style in the
refrains. A gem, this, and the best track on the disc thus far.
As for Stephen Bulla’s Roller Coaster it’s not the white-knuckle
ride I expected; that said, the band’s nimble playing is a joy
Roger Moore’s tongue-in-cheek 007 is well-served by Paul McCartney’s
raunchy score for Live and Let Die. Like the theme to
Goldfinger, it’s one of those tunes that always brings
to mind the Bond films’ trademark opening titles. As for Stephen
Molloy, his soprano cornet playing is effortlessly agile, especially
in the stratospheric sign-off. Very different again from the
measured tread of ‘The Pines of the Appian Way’ from Respighi’s
Pines of Rome. Parisi and his players conjure up a splendid
vision of approaching legions, the procession passing by in
a great dust cloud of cymbals and weighty brass.
This really is a most accomplished band, tastefully presented
and very well recorded. Some may find the potpourri of a programme
isn’t to their taste, but when the music is played with such
élan it seems oafish to complain. Little wonder the FCBB
have won so many competitions stateside and garnered so much
praise on this side of the Atlantic as well. And if you want
to hear them live and you happen to live in the UK, they’re
touring here later this year. Get a ticket – now.