Jazz Professional               

CD Review

The Ian Pearce Big Band

Retrospection (TRIP Records TRIP011)

  Quince, Intermission Riff, Here's That Rainy Day, Broadway Medley, Mean To Me, Satin Doll, Love For Sale, Moanin', Meet Basie, All Of Me, There'll Be Some Changes Made, Mood Indigo, In Mulligan's Shoes, Violets For Your Furs, Spiralling Prism, Cherokee, Song For Stan
Recorded in January 1998

  Collective Personnel: Andy Cuss, Dave Plews, Mark Cumberland, Jeremy Moore, Mark Armstrong, Martin Shaw, Mally Baxter, Jamie Coleman (trumpets); Steve Wilks, Cliff Hardie, Winston Rollins, Pat Hartley (trombones); Adrian Hallowell, Peter North (bass trombones); Colin Skinner, Pete Long, Matt Wates, Sammy Mayne, Adrian Revell, Alan Ladds, Julian Marc Stringle, Ben Castle, Pol Coussee (reeds); Ian Pearce, Peter Adams (piano); Steve Pearce (bass); Chris Dagley, Darren Ashford (drums); Litsa Davies, Frank Holder (vocals).
Album dedicated to Joan Cunningham

All arrangements by Ian Pearce

Prelude to the Blues (Big Musik Records 012)

Drifting to the Blues, Count Down for Basie, Dream Dance, Blues for the Road, Don't Ever Say Goodbye, Benny Was Here, Straight Ahead, Prelude to the Blues, Blues of a Kind, Have You Met Quincy Jones, Manchurian Lady, Blue and Mellow, Chasing the Blues
Recorded in August 2000

Personnel: Dave Plews, Mark Cumberland, Mark Armstrong, Andy Gathercole, Martin Shaw (trumpets); Cliff Hardie, Andy Wood, Ashley Horton, Pete North (trombones); Colin Skinner, Sammy Mayne, Adrian Revell, Lauren Hignall, John Halton, Martin Williams (on tracks 10, 11, 12, 13) (saxes); Steve Pearce (Bass); Chris Dagley, Darren Ashford (on tracks 3, 5, 10, 11) drums; Ian Pearce (Piano)

All compositions and arrangements by Ian Pearce.

Thirty titles, played by the young lions of the 21st century.

The Prelude to the Blues album was made nearly three years after Retrospection, and, although the first album is excellent, the second shows the rewards of two more years of playing together, with Ian Pearce's outstanding arrangements now focussing entirely upon the band's strongest points, and with an entirely new sound spectrum. Anything I say here does not reflect back in any way on Retrospection — it is good, very good. But it does not achieve greatness. Prelude to the Blues does. While the first is a swinging big band affair, Prelude has many moments of exquisite beauty, and I'm going to tell you why.

The studio used to record Prelude gets a really gorgeous sound out of the saxophone section. It is pure, with the most remarkable presence, and it represents the saxophone sound exactly. In a band bursting with talented players, Colin Skinner, the leader of these saxophones, is the most prominently displayed. He is featured on three solos, but you can hear him all the time, leading that section. It's almost as if he is leading the band, as Marshall Royal used to lead the Basie band. In fact, Colin has a few moments in there where he actually sounds like Marshall. He's not doing anything flashy—nobody in the band is doing anything flashy—he quietly dominates, and because of that, the saxophones are at the centre of one's attention at all times.

This does not mean that the other sections are not also superb, because they indeed are. The trombones, led by Cliff Hardie, an old colleague of mine, with the sensational Pete North on bass trombone, play beautifully, softly and perfectly. The trumpets, likewise, are perfection itself. The brass section and the ensemble as a whole, particularly on the slow numbers, create a quiet, perfectly balanced dense sound that I can only describe as whispering power. And I love it.

It is on the slow numbers that this band really distances itself from other large combinations, for here it is that the whispering power takes over. I was so astounded when I first heard Dream Dance that I had to play it another three or four times before I went on to hear the others. In Dream Dance Colin Skinner is slightly louder than the rest of the band, intentionally so. This turns his alto lead into a kind of solo part over the band. At one point in the number I felt the shock of deja vu; a shiver of recognition passed right through my body—for a second I was back in my teens, listening to Woody Herman playing Lady McGowan's Dream, a 78 recording issued at the same time as his Summer Sequence, and, no doubt, because of that, generally forgotten. Colin gave me a moment of pure Woody Herman in there, and I used to love Woody, whichever instrument he played. I played the passage again, and there it was once more. Absolutely sensational.

The ensemble playing in the slow numbers on this CD should, nay, must be studied by all the young big band musicians of today. This is how to do it, guys.

Once you've finished listening to Dream Dance go on to hear the rest of the album, especially Don't Ever Say Goodbye and Prelude to the Blues. There is a feast awaiting you.

Ron Simmonds

Dream Dance score example