Barbara THOMPSON (b.1944)
Apollo Saxophone Orchestra: Perpetual Motion
Perpetual Motion [5:17]
Dear Bach [7:20]
Dear Bach…Epitaph [2:03]
Apollo Saxophone Orchestra
rec. 3-5 January 2012, Royal Northern College of Music. DDD
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6200 [52:06]
Mention the name Barbara Thompson to a jazz fan and back will come one word: Paraphernalia. Her band was for so long an adornment on the local and international scene that it's sometimes forgotten how prolific and excellent a composer she is. Such evidence is to be heard in spades in this disc.
Her twelve-saxophone ensemble plays ten original works. One can hear from the first track, Perpetual Motion how rich and colourful is her scoring, its density and contrapuntal cleverness going hand in hand. Here that feeling is further vitalised by a slowing down to a frolicking section, rather like a Scotch Snap. Her Dear Bach hones in on an almost Stokowskian sense of the composer's sheer amplitude, her organ chords and 'pedal' writing, as transferred to the saxophonic band, allowing little solo fantasias to emerge from the music's thickets, like a theme and variation. To me, the haunting aura of Gil Evans is also present.
A Latino dance courses through Celebration its Nymanesque generation of electricity - it's not very reminiscent of Nyman, in truth, and does swing more - leading on to an exultant sopranino dance. The next three tracks are derived from her Quartet No.2. Black features striking mellophones in a stark, almost granitic piece of writing, whilst Red is unsettled, quirky and tough, full of vivid sonorities. She says that Green 'wrote itself' but it most certainly needed her inspiration!
What is so refreshing about Thompson's writing for this large all-saxophone ensemble is its variety. One can easily imagine how a neophyte would have struggled. But as an eminent executant herself, she knows the instrument from the inside and can write for it, as Benny Carter did before her, with a technical assurance and very personalised and particular sound world that makes her writing so distinctive.
To take just one more example, Bulletproof has a snazzy, cinematic drive both exciting and visceral and one that instantly compels attention. Finally and fittingly she reprises Bach in the final track, on which she plays soprano, in a kind of aria da capo kind of way (think: The Goldberg Variations).
The ensemble includes some inspiring musicians - Rob Buckland and Andy Scott to the fore - and plays with terrific verve.
Inspiring musicians playing with terrific verve.