Mike Westbrook (piano)
Phil Minton (trumpet, voice)
Kate Westbrook (tenor horn, bamboo flute,
Brian Godding (guitar)
Dominique Pifarely (violin)
Georgie Born (cello)
Danilo Terenzi (trombone)
Steve Cook (bass guitar)
Tony Marsh (drums)
Chris Biscoe (baritone, alto, & soprano saxes,
alto clarinet, piccolo)
Stuart Brooks (trumpet, flugelhorn)
The Mike Westbrook Orchestra play an excerpt from "Checking in at Hotel Le Prieure" from Mike Westbrook's "On Duke's Birthday".
Recorded live May 12th, 1984 Le Grand Théâtre,
Maison de la Culture, Amiens.
hatOLOGY 635 (reissue, remastered) -
UK distribution Harmonia Mundi.
Since the late 1960s, British composer Mike Westbrook has delivered everything from brass band music, to settings of William Blake poems, 1930s Berlin cabaret and opera, as well as performing all kinds of personal twists on the jazz tradition. Westbrook's catholic taste has made him more popular on the European continent than in his homeland, but this 1984 tribute to Duke Ellington not only confirms the depths of his jazz roots, but also how effectively he can evoke the spirits of his biggest heroes without mimicking them.
A vibrant live atmosphere (from an Amiens concert) is rousingly caught on the riffy slow-building opener, which rises like a waking giant from the jolts and stabs of Westbrook's piano intro, Dominique Pifarely's violin whirling up over Brian Godding's choppy guitar chords. Deep cello broodings are joined by muted brass, later to erupt into edgy sax-led swing and spooky vocal impressions of wah-wah horns, and the long East Stratford Too-Doo is a tone-colour exploration from which emerges a series of softly-swaying themes, a violin break that stirs up a groove, a pastoral flute reverie, and then a stomping swinger. The motifs are simple, but very subtly layered for an unusual lineup, and versatile reeds-player Chris Biscoe contributes to much of the spontaneity. John Fordham - The Guardian Oct 07
Hat Hut is re-launching albums from its jazz and modern classical catalogues, marking them "2nd edition", the first editions having been limited to 1,500 or 3,000 copies. On Duke's Birthday was originally released in 1988 and features the concert premiere of this suite, recorded on 12 May 1984 in Amiens. The work had been commissioned by two French jazz promoters to mark the 10th anniversary of Duke Ellington's death.
By this time Westbrook was, like so many colleagues from the British post-bop jazz renaissance of the mid-60's, scuffling to find work in the UK. The critical and public acclaim he garnered with the superb series of Deram albums by his Concert Band had waned. Of those albums, Release (1968) was probably the most popular: a glorious exhilarating melange juxtaposing exciting, witty arrangements of swing classics like "Flying Home " and fringe hits like "The Girl From Ipenema" with Westbrook originals that mixed in elements of rock and free jazz, it derived added spice from the highly individual (indeed sometimes downrigh eccentric) soling of the band members
Between Release and On Duke's Birthday Westbrook's recordings alternated between works that continues to have fun with exisiting genres and those that were more personal and stylistically cohesive. The Ellington tribute falls into the second category. It's definitely not a collection of pastiches , parodies or updates of the Duke's tunes, yet there can be no doubt about Westbrook's love and knowledge of Ellingtonia, and without any crude impersonations the solos vividly evoke the likes of Sam Nanton and Ray Nance.
The urbane yet theatrical piano introduction to "Checking In" echoes the structure of many an Ellington piece, although Westbrook's harmonies are different: indeed, the voicings on this track often recall the Gil Evans of The Individualism of... period (1963-64) and once the full band weighs in it swings the the proverbials. The two "Birthdays" explore a wide range of moods and styles, including hints of the early 20th century classical music that Ellington admired, showcasing fine work on alto, trumpet, trombone and guitar along the way. "Too-Doo", with more tasty playing from Pifarely, is even more varied, and even more impressive in the success with which it weaves disparate elements into a whole, though for me the bried vocal section was a serious error. "Music Is..." ... well, yes. Barry Witherden - Jazz Review Oct 07
Commissioned by Le Temps du Jazz, Amiens, and Jazz en France, Angoulême, to mark the tenth anniversary of Duke Ellington's death (1984), On Duke's Birthday, in composer Mike Westbrook's words, 'seeks to express . my love of Duke's music, a love which has grown over the years'. Neither in its instrumental resources (Brian Godding's electric guitar, Dominique Pifarély's violin, Georgie Born's cello, Chris Biscoe's reeds, Danilo Terenzi's trombone, Kate Westbrook's tenor horn, flutes, piccolo and voice, Phil Minton's trumpet and voice, Stuart Brooks's trumpet and flugelhorn augmenting the core trio of Mike Westbrook's piano, Tony Marsh's drums and Steve Cook's bass guitar) nor in its actual music (no sly quotations from Ellington, no recycled riffs etc.) does the five-part composition overtly draw on Ellington; instead, that most elusive and subjective of animals, the spirit of Ellington, is evoked by this tightly structured yet rousingly engaging performance, recorded in Amiens. True, there are moments - Kate Westbrook's Nantonesque 'wah-wah' vocals the most obvious example - where Ellingtonian effects are referred to, but all the composition's most important elements - the creation of hauntingly lovely, intensely memorable themes from the subtlest of melodic material; the slow-building climaxes (aptly described by Art Lange as 'initially unassuming background figures or fills growing gradually to major proportions'); the judicious balancing of ensemble and solo space courtesy of an unerring instinct for the telling deployment of highly individual, even idiosyncratic solo voices, such as that of the inimitable Chris Biscoe; the sheer (restrained but none the less palpable) celebratory joy permeating the whole - are definitive, essential Westbrook, and render On Duke's Birthday one of his greatest achievements. A genuinely valuable reissue. Chris Parker - Vortex
One of Mike Westbrook's great skills as a composer, and one often overlooked , is his ability to write for unusual combinations of instruments. He is also a master at getting the maximum textural variety from what appears on paper to be quite linited instrumental resources. In the past - for example Metropolis, Citadel Room 315 and Love, Dream & Variations - Mike has used fairly conventional big band line-up. More often, he has chosen to vary and mix and match different instrumentation to acheive his aims. The beauty of his approach is that it allows different and unexpected colours to emerge that challenge our perception of what a jazz group or orchestra should sound like.
Being asked to prepare an Ellington tribute must have been manna from heaven for Westbrook. The result is something totally fresh and vital that brings alive Duke's memory rather than consign it to a museum. This is music of consumate ellegance that recall the rich harmonies and unusual tones of 'Harlem Airshaft', 'Creole Love Call' and even more so Billy Strayhorn's work for Duke's orchestra. One remembers 'Tricky' sam Nanton in the wonderful musicianship of Danilo Terenzi, Harry Carney in Chris Biscoe's baritone and recalls Ray Nance's occasional violin with Dominique Pifarely. But there is also some of that rare good humour in there as well, not least in the punning 'East Stratford To Doo'. Duncan Heining - Jazzwise Oct 07
Admirers of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose new album was reviewed here last week, should sift through this gleaming chest of long-buried treasure by a largely forgotten English composer-orchestrator. Taped by the specialist Hat Hut label at a 1984 concert in France, it's a masterly tribute to Ellington. Variously reflective or hard-driving, pianist Westbrook's gently shifting kaleidoscope of atmospheric colours inspires his European all-star 11, including French violinist Dominique Pifarely and Italian trombonist Danilo Terenzi, to fine, unhackneyed solos. British guitarist Brian Godding and cellist Georgie Born sound particularly distinctive and Chris Biscoe's baritone-sax solo on East Stratford Too-Doo is a revelation. A London revival of music as subtle as this is long overdue. Jack Massarick - Evening Standard Sept 07
Recorded live with an 11-piece ensemble, this was composer/ orchestrator Mike Westbrook's sui generis 1984 Duke Ellington celebration. No Ducal works, no imitation, despite which its elegance, its gaiety constantly edged with melancholy, its mocking jauntiness, its drive and lyricism reveal Westbrook and Duke - for all their individuality - as brothers in spirit. Remarkableis the way Westbrook builds great, flowingly self-referential edifices of sound, superbly and kaleidoscopically voiced, fromthe simplest of figures and relatively slender instrumental resources. Yet the unity of orchestra and soloists (who include violinist Dominique Pifarély, trombonist DaniloTerenzi and marvellous multi-reedman Chris Biscoe) is total, summed up in a gloriously resolved East Stratford Too-Doo and a memorably voiced (and revoiced) On Duke's Birthday 2. One of the reissues of the year. Ray Comiskey - Irish Times Sept 07
This has been one of my favourite Westbrook recordings since its original release in 1984, and makes a welcome re-appearance in this overdue reissue. In keeping with the English pianist and composer's original and creative approach to jazz, the five lengthy Westbrook compositions featured here pay tribute to the spirit rather than the letter of Ellington's music. If the Ducal presence is more implicit than actual, the music does reflect a sincere love and respect for his work, but couched in a different musical language. The ten-piece band includes electric guitarist Brian Godding and violinist Dominique Pifarely alongside the horns, with both Kate Westbrook and Phil Minton adding vocal contributions. Originally performed to mark the tenth anniversary of Duke's death, the live recording from a concert in Amiens has stood up well, and the music continues to reveal fresh nuances even after many listens. Kenny Mathieson - The Scotsman Sept 07
Original Cover Art For
"On Duke's Birthday"
Kate & Mike Westbrook -
Checking in at Hotel Le Prieure
from original artwork of On Duke's Birthday