John WILLIAMS (b. 1932) (arr. Steve Sykes) Liberty Fanfare (1986) [4:23]
Charles ANDERSON O.R.B. [3:03]
Joseph TURRIN (b. 1947) Hymn for Diana (1997) [5:30]
Jean-Baptiste ARBAN (1825-1889) (arr, Lee Harrelson) Carnival of Venice [4:38]1
Philip WILBY (b. 1949) Paganini Variations (1991) [16:34]
Chuck MANGIONE (b. 1940) (arr. Lee Harreslson) Land of Make Believe (1973) [5:30]
Traditional (arr. Stephen Roberts) Carrickfergus [3:57]2
Stephen BULLA Roller Coaster [4:41]
Paul MCCARTNEY (b. 1942) (arr. Ray Farr) Live and Let Die (1973) [4:05]3
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) (arr. Howard Snell) ‘The Pines of the Appian Way’ from The Pines of Rome (1923-1924) [5:50]
1Raquel Rodriquez (cornet)
2Lee Harrelson (euphonium)
3Steve Molloy (soprano cornet)
Fountain City Brass Band/Joseph Parisi
rec. 18-20 December 2007, University of Missouri-Kansas Conservatoire of Music & Dance. DDD
DOYEN DOYCD282 [59:11]

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 to hear.

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.

Dan Morgan

This really is a most accomplished band, tastefully presented and very well recorded.