Live Review: Beats and Pieces Big Band

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Image by Martin Wilson
Image by Martin Wilson

No matter how many genres and styles of music you’ve been lucky enough to experience, there is nothing quite like the sound of a live big band. The power, the impact, the colourful orchestration and perhaps most importantly, the infectious smiles and finger clicking that spreads across the room. Although variations on the big band setup such as jazz ensembles and saxophone groups have made their way into the Live at LICA programme at Lancaster University, the treat of a professional big band has been a rarity, but that as all about to change as the Beats and Pieces Big Band graced the Great Hall stage to kick off a February full of tasty musical flavours.

With many prizes to their name including the Jazz FM award for Best Newcomer of 2013, there were high expectations within the audience and from note one the team of fourteen did not disappoint. The band kicked things off extremely energetically and what was most notable from the off was the amount of enthusiasm that was on display, which is of course is what truly makes a great performance. From flugelhorn solos to Radiohead covers, it was clear that Beats and Pieces were not afraid to be experimental and were far from being an ordinary big band playing swing and rat pack music round and round. They flawlessly pulled off an array of styles and filled the first half with a bunch of surprises. The most outstanding pieces included “Anymore” which was the moment in the spotlight for the unique sound of the flugelhorn and the phenomenal “Tone” which included a screaming soprano saxophone solo from the talented and expressive Sam Healey and some excellent interweaving parts from the brass.

The interval came far too soon after a stunning first half but during the break I was lucky enough to speak to band leader Ben Cottrell and saxophonist Sam Healey who both chatted to me about the band’s experience since they got together in 2008. They were both extremely happy about receiving the Jazz FM award and are now keen to spread their fan base across Europe now that they are on tour. Based on the contagious energy that had reached the audience here in Lancaster, that will undoubtedly happen for them and I hope to hear more news on their successes when they return to Lancaster for the jazz festival in September.

There was lots of excitement and adrenaline pumping for the second half and once again a stack of fantastic original tunes given to an audience who were left catching flies. Some of the highlights of this set were the interesting use of electronic equipment which had briefly been used in the first half but to much more effect later on and the tune “Broken” which from start to finish was a complexly arranged piece full of colour and richness that included an awesome solo from saxophonist Anthony Brown who was more into soothing and calmer solos in comparison to some of the other players. This piece ended the concert before a much needed and wanted encore but it’s safe to say that we’d happily welcome this superb team of musicians back to our stage again and again after a performance that left you tingling with joy.

During the interval, a comment from ULMS President Chris Langford was put forward to me and is perhaps the best way to describe what truly stood out about this group and that was that “they’re a big band but they play like a small group”. At the same time as having the powerful sound that every big band should have they were able to show that it’s not all about that. Beats and Pieces equally had so much control and composure and everything was orchestrated to fit specific players so well that they were able to conquer unimaginable styles for this sort of instrumental set up. A huge spark had been lit by this wonderful band in the Great Hall and they’re sure to be the talk of Live at LICA for weeks to come.

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