Mike Westbrook Orchestra
A Big Band Cabaret featuring vocalists
and John Winfield
Lyrics by Helen Simpson
Music by Mike Westbrook
1. Nowhere (7.34)
2. Utopia Blues (14.55)
3. Honest Love (7.39)
4. Dialogue (8.28)
5. Utopia Ballad (4.52)
6. The Happy Jazz Singer (8.21)
7. Bar Utopia (6.10)
Kate Westbrook, John Winfield (vocalists)
Mike Westbrook (piano)
Noel Langley, Andy Bush.
Paul Edmonds, James McMillan (trumpets)
Peter Whyman, Chris Biscoe, Dave Bitelli,
Alan Wakeman, Chris Caldwell (saxophones)
Karen Street (saxophone & accordion)
Adrian Lane, Mark Bassey, Tracy Holloway (trombones)
Andy Grappy (tuba)
Anthony Kerr (vibes)
Stanley Adler (cello)
Steve Berry (bass)
Peter Fairclough (drums)
produced by John Winfield and Mike Westbrook.
Overture (Coming Through Slaughter) (4.24)
Dedicated to Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton and his 1926 recording 'The Chant'
ENJA RECORDS ENJ 93332. Distibuted in the UK by AMD
BAR UTOPIA, premiered at the 1995 Bath Festival, is a 7 song meditation on the subject of Utopias, combining the intelligent and witty lyrics of the acclaimed author Helen Simpson, with some of Westbrook's most memorable writing. Described by the composer as a 'Big-Band Cabaret', BAR UTOPIA centres on the remarkable vocal duo of Kate Westbrook and John Winfield, together with a 19 piece ensemble that features some of Britain's foremost improvising musicians.
The Mike Westbrook Orchestra (Bar Utopia) is a phenomenal band, and Westbrook himself a master of of jazz orchestration. He can suggest a carnival, a ballroom, or a greasy back street with a few cunningly placed notes. The full effect is awe inspiring.
Premiered at the Bath Festival, Bar Utopia has been around long enough for the band to extract maximum fun from playing it. Singers Kate Westbrook and John Winfield often work as a duo but, on the suitably rollicking Happy Jazz Singer, Kate splits choruses with a Pythonesque male quartet drawn from the band.
Bits of rock opera pop up in Dialogue, there are virtuoso spots for cello and accordion and, in a theatrical touch, the ensemble divides into raucous Dixieland groups.
The warm, lived-in sound from the band represents an enormous strike in the music's favour. Another is that Westbrook writes tunes that stick in the mind. Brilliantly sung by Winfield, the Utopia Ballad tugs at the heart-strings, while snappy riffs on Nowhere get the fingers popping as a big band should. Instrumental soloists standing out include Peter Whyman on alto saxophone, Anthony Kerr on vibraphone and newcomer Paul Edmonds on trumpet."
Here we have 1996 music adapting to the spirit of the thirties. Westbrook is leading this fine, shouting big band in the contemporary manner and there is an unshamed night club element. Witty lyrics by Helen Simpson are an integral part of the music and the album's sub heading is A Big Band Cabaret! There will be some readers who will think there is too much vocal emphasis bit I would say that they are missing the point. This could be taken as a Cotton Club show bought forward to the nineties and it would certainly have been less impressive without the cabaret element.
From the instrumental point of view, Westbrook knows how he wants his band to sound. The voicings are total rather than sectionised and he has a rhythm section that cooks along perfectly. Only the churlish would fail to be impressed with soloists such as Bitelli and Edmonds (Nowhere), McMillan and Wakeman (Utopia Blues), Whyman (Honest Love), Kerr (Utopia Ballad) and Biscoe (Happy Jazz Singer).
Vocalists Kate Westbrook and John Winfield get the idiom just right and most readers will find the dashing saxophone quartet take of Jelly's The Chant a delightful way of getting the show on the road. Listening to this is an hour well spent.
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