June 2019 Posts
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
13 June 2019
Geoffrey Smith recalls halycon, jazz- drenched days in Sicily courtesy of the Mike Westbrook Orchestra
I should declare an interest: in 1992, I was one of the happy company invited to join Mike Westbrook and his orchestra for an extraordinary three-day festival devoted to Mike's music in Catania, Sicily - all concerts free, given in an elegant roof garden in the heart of town. And how the memories come flooding back with this two-disc set of music culled from that rare occasion, appropriately titled Catania (Westbrook Records WR004).
But even if you weren't there, these tracks can make you feel the balmy Sicilian night, the enthusiastic crowd, the inspiration surging through the Westbrook band. Above all, the music captured here deserves a place in the archive simply by virtue of its quality, an overdue tribute to the many-sided, passionately imagined compositions of Mike Westbrook. A distinctive force in British jazz from the late '60s, his potent orchestral canon has been unfairly neglected, and some of its peaks are showcased in Catania.
So you can revel in the sound of Mike's 24-piece ensemble digging into such Westbrook gems as 'Factotum al Bebop', from his gleeful reworking of Rossini's Barber of Seville, with excellent solos by Alan Barnes on alto and Anthony Kerr on vibes; 'l See Thy Form', from Mike's classic setting of the poems of William Blake, with the vital Westbrook voices of vocalist Phil Minton and altoist Chris Biscoe; and 'l.D.M.A.T.', a playfully skew-whiff homage to Duke Ellington's 'lt Don't Mean A Thing', led by Peter Whyman's scintillating soprano.
But l think my favourite track, as music and memory, is 'Lenador', a searing Lorca poem from Mike's suite The Cortege. Sung by Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton, its climax is a tremendous solo by the ltalian trombonist Danilo Terenzi which, on the night, completely overwhelmed Mike Westbrook. l'll never forget Mike, swaying in open-mouthed astonishment, transported by Danilo's passion. For me, that sums up the whole glorious event, which you can experience on these lovingly restored discs.
Geoffrey Smith - BBC Music Magazine