The Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles
Earlier this year, multireedist, composer and arranger, Julian Argüelles released Inner Voices, a “playfully inventive and richly rewarding” multitracked solo album that did as much to confirm his reputation as one of the UK’s most adventurous, and distinctive artists, as it did to solidify his place in the UK Jazz Hall of Fame. As Jazzwise noted, it was “a fascinating glimpse into the world of one of the most expressive jazz saxophonists this country has produced in the last quarter of a century”.
The recording was somewhat of a ‘comeback’ album for Argüelles, who has for the past two years been dividing his time between the UK and Germany where he works with the HR Big Band in Frankfurt. Little did the critics know, that within the first half of 2009, Argüelles would release a solo album, undertake a trio tour, a quartet tour and now with Momenta, a big band album.
Momenta is Argüelles’ return to a big band setting, and is the culmination of composing, rehearsing and performing with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Recorded live in concert, Momenta is a collection of new arrangements of Argüelles compositions, both old and new, plus two new compositions specifically for this project.
Argüelles is a highly versatile musician. His ever-changing formats have produced acclaimed recordings and tours with trio, quartet, octet and solo, yet his relationship with big bands is a long-standing one. As a teenager he was a member of the European Youth Jazz Orchestra, later becoming a founding member of the mid 80’s maverick ensemble, Loose Tubes. He has worked with large groups led by Django Bates, and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, and has been with Kenny Wheeler’s Big Band for 20 years. In addition, Argüelles has written for, amongst others, the Hamburg Radio Big band, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and the Royal Academy of Music Jazz Orchestra. And although he feels this project is an extension of his earlier arrangements, he admits that “the more I write music for large ensembles, the more it sounds how I had hoped!”
Shortly before the Momenta rehearsals began, the Big Band pianist broke his finger, enabling Argüelles to invite a guest. By stroke of luck, the tour de force of British jazz, the prodigiously gifted pianist Gwilym Simcock was able to join Arguelles on this big band outing. “Julian was one of my musical heroes when I first got into jazz” says Simcock, “so it’s a huge honour and pleasure for me to play Julian’s music and work with such wonderful musicians as the HR Big Band.”
As one of the most widely acclaimed artists on the British scene, Simcock is revered for his “glittering solos”, “harmonic sophistication”, “intricate improvisation”, “rhythmic agility” and “technical accomplishments”. Yet, says Argüelles, “aside from Gwilym’s exceptional playing technique and sense of harmony, it’s the romanticism of his playing; his emotional quality that I most admire”.
Indeed, much of Argüelles’ past success lies in the range of feelings he explores, and Momenta is no exception. Crucially, none of the pieces conforms to conventional jazz big-band style; and, as is usual for Arguelles, he was keen for the music to have a connection with the jazz tradition without it being an imitation of things that have come before. Instead, Momenta explores a vast dynamic range from light and tender to an almost zealous energy. “After all” he says, “that’s what I love most about jazz - the emotional reaction”.
Julian Argüelles tenor/soprano saxophones
Heinz Dieter Sauerborn,Oliver Leicht, ,Tony Lakatos, Steffen Weber, Rainer Heute (saxes)
25/06/2009 The Scotsman
They draw on compositions from various points in his output, including the new, Spanish-tinged ‘Barcelona 1936’, the idiosyncratic ‘Skull View’, a fiery nod to Evan Parker in ‘Evan’s Freedom Pass’, the almost pastoral contours of ‘Hi Steve’ and the delicious ‘Mish Mash’. He sidesteps all the conventional clichés of big band writing and arranging, and the Frankfurt musicians revel in the shifting moods and colours.
02/06/2009 Chris May, All Aboutjazz.com
During the 1980s, Arguelles spent four years as a member of the fondly remembered, prankster-ish, 21-piece British band Loose Tubes, the finishing school for several other emergent talents including keyboard player Django Bates, saxophonists Ian Ballamy and Mark Lockheart, guitarist John Parricelli, and Arguelles' drummer and percussionist brother, Steve Arguelles. Less media attuned and more self-effacing than some of his fellow Loose Tubes graduates, Arguelles remains uncelebrated outside a relatively small circle of musicians and cognoscenti, despite making a string of superb albums with a wide variety of lineups, from small groups to a 20-piece string ensemble, since 1990.
Arguelles began working with the Frankfurt Radio Bigband in 2007, and Momenta was recorded live in Germany in 2008. The inclusion of Simcock, a gorgeously lyrical player, came about by chance, following the unexpected unavailability of the band's regular pianist. Arguelles made the most of the situation, adjusting several scores to feature Simcock, who solos on five of the seven tracks. Other soloists include trumpeter/flugelhornist Axel Schlosser and guitarist Martin Scales, each of whom solos on two tracks. Arguelles, who here restricts himself to tenor and soprano saxophones, solos on six tracks, mostly on tenor.
The tunes, a collection of originals old and new, are given suite-like cohesion by Arguelles' school of Gil Evans arrangements. Like Evans, Arguelles has a penchant for Hispanic flavors—after a pensive beginning, the arrangement of 1996's "Skull View" breaks into an intense second section punctuated by flamenco-like hand-claps and a wordless, soulful vocal refrain from trumpeter Tobias Weidinger—but unlike Evans, he's significantly informed by the European classical tradition, particularly its impressionist composers. Most of tunes are closely arranged, the exception being "Evan's Freedom Pass," which after a brassy, urgent opening section sounding like an updated 1950s TV cop show theme, evolves into an extended free-improv duet from Arguelles and Schlosser.
Arguelles and Simcock, who as soloists are the twin focus of the album, are well matched. Both are wonderfully melodic improvisers and Arguelles' occasional acerbic chromaticism is an effective complement to Simcock's unabating romanticism. Guitarist Scales, who contributes a flowing in-the-tradition solo to "Skull View" and some post-Jimi Hendrix, wah-wah soaked atmosphere to "Mish Mash," is another pleasure.
A sterling and absorbing disc which delivers the same sense of solace as a beautiful landscape.
01/06/2009 Duncan Heining, Jazz UK
30/05/2009 John Bungey, The Times
29/05/2009 Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast
Barcelona 1936 is the opener, written specially for the band, and with strong solos from both Simcock and Arguelles, whose lyrical, long lines of improvisation are so distinctive and yet always sound so fresh. It’s a great piece of jazz orchestral writing having a modern Spanish tinge and yet also sounding poignantly nostalgic.
Most of the rest of material will be familiar to Arguelles fans but it is great to hear it played by larger forces, for which re-arrangements were necessary. It includes You See My Dear from Inner Voices, Phaedrus and Hi Steve from way back at the start of his solo recording career (1990 to be precise), and Evan’s Freedom Pass from his trio album Partita.
Strikingly, there is only one piece from his Octet book, now called Skull View but which I seem to remember was once called Head Pan. The Octet is one of my favourite bands, able to give a rich mini-orchestral scope to the music but small enough to have the liveliness of a jazz combo. So maybe that’s why I find this among the most satisfying pieces here, having a bit more energy, while some of the playing elsewhere feels a little too polite. Simcock’s solo here is a particular gem.
Mish Mash is the closer, a multi-sectioned piece which really raises the temperature during Martin Scales’ guitar solo, before falling back to that lovely thing Arguelles does with a horn section, getting them to play overlapping single note, minimalist riffs, over which he solos on soprano. It then changes in mood once more for a Peter Feil trombone solo.
Momenta is another highly worthwhile addition to the Arguelles catalogue, and a reminder that the scope and depth of his contribution to 21st century jazz continues to grow.
25/05/2009 Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman 4 stars ****
Argüelles is the main soloist on both tenor and soprano saxophones, and has composed all seven pieces on the album, drawn from various points in his prolific career.
His writing and arranging avoids the clichés of big band conventions, and offers a pleasing variety of moods and colourings, taking in the Spanish-tinged Barcelona 1936, idiosyncratic but elegant ballads in You See My Dear and Skull View, the fiery contortions of Evan's Freedom Pass, the almost pastoral contours of Hi Steve and the delicious Mish Mash along the way.
The Frankfurt musicians take on the challenges with aplomb, and the saxophonist provides space for several fine soloists from the band to have their say as well
22/05/2009 Irish Times 5 stars*****
22/05/2009 John Fordham, The Guardian 4 stars****
22/05/2009 Andrew Vine, Yorkshire Post
18/05/2009 BBC online
You See My Dear is regal in aspect and assured in the richness of the orchestral resource which acts as its foundation. There's a moment, half a minute before the end, that's key to the whole composition. Every instrument draws breath, pauses and then sounds an unexpectedly oblique chord before swooning to its conclusion. This mixture of the assured and the unexpected is indicative of the best parts of Momenta. Occasionally though, as on Hi Steve, the music comes a little too close to sounding run of the mill.
Evan's Freedom Pass ratchets up the tension – and speed - with constant arpeggios, blaring trumpets and snaking sax. It feels like sitting in a fast car racing through the countryside, at least until the halfway point when our vehicle appears to slide around for a queasy minute or two before regaining traction and accelerating away again.
Skull View initially essays an altogether different mood that is haunted and crepuscular. After a lovely, fluid guitar solo from Martin Scales, handclaps and wordless singing introduce a thrilling, almost Hispanic feeling to the music. Mish Mash ends on a high note complete with muscular wah-wah guitar and punchy chords. The orchestration achieves a precious luminosity coloured by Argüelles' gorgeous soprano solo that is genuinely affecting and proves to be Momenta's high point.