Welcome to Superbrass and our debut recording “Under the Spell of Spain”, a deliberate and eclectic mix of original and arranged music for brass and percussion, all inspired by the vibrant country and people of Spain.
The whole idea of recording this album came about following a conversation with my old friend and tuba player David Powell, when he came out with the comment
“EVERY musician should record and produce their own CD”.
That concept stuck in the back of my mind for years and just wouldn’t go away. So my first thanks go to you Dave, not only for that simple bit of advice, but for your patience throughout this project, the two wonderful arrangements you supplied, your magnificent composition Dulcinea and the poetic eloquence of your preamble.
The next big thanks and influence on this project go to Philip Jones and his magnificent brass ensemble (PJBE).
I have not only played bass trombone in the RPO for close on 20 years, but I have a part-time position as Professor of Bass Trombone and Head of Brass Studies at Trinity College of Music. Between 1983 and 1990, TCM had as its Principal a certain trumpeter called Mr Philip Jones. Where would we all be without that man’s vision and persistence? Philip saw the college through many turbulent and financially worrying times and established a school of excellence in brass chamber music playing that is in my opinion still unequalled. All the brass teaching rooms at TCM are adorned with posters, pictures and record sleeves of Philip and his groundbreaking ensemble; the weight of responsibility I feel on my shoulders to carry forward his ideals in my own very small way literally look down on me every day I teach there.
(Coincidentally this year 2011, marks the 60th Anniversary of the start of the PJBE)
I grew up in Neath, South Wales, and went to the local state school, Dwr-y-felin Comprehensive, which had a tremendous musical tradition. Within six months of starting to learn the trombone aged 13, I was participating in orchestral, jazz and brass bands – both at school and county level. The most memorable and significant occasion was playing antiphonal Gabrieli at the very first School Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 1975. Further study at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester in the 80’s was a huge culture shock, suddenly to be surrounded by amazing talents from all the corners of the country. The college gave us opportunities to perform influential repertoire, but we also formed our own ensemble, “Northern Festival Brass”, influenced by the then lighter direction taken by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. We followed their lead and started arranging our very own jazz, pop and rock charts to perform. I still very much treasure those positive and consistent educational opportunities; given to me both at school and college level and like to think they helped me evolve into the musician I am today.
My final thanks go to my wonderful family for their help, patience, advice and suggestions - Ruth, Alex, Ellie and my mother Doods.
Being brought up with strong Spanish influences and heritage at home in South Wales was bound to push me into being interested in the history and people of Spain, but maybe getting the chance to blow my Uncle Rubio's tuba in the sleepy village of Landete one hot summer in rural Valencia, was the starting point on my journey into the music profession and my obsession with all things brassy.
© Roger Argente, 2011
Under the Spell of Spain
I spent my 40th birthday in Madrid, on an orchestral tour, and my treat to myself was a visit to the Museo del Prado. This great gallery houses many treasures including Picasso’s “Guernica”. I had been fascinated by the work of Goya since my teenage years, and I think this was my first sight of some of the real paintings. The work that had most attracted my tormented adolescent soul was the horrific “Saturn devouring his children”. However once in the Prado, I caught sight of some earlier Goyas from the 1780s, depicting idealised scenes of peasant life. What struck me then as now, was the extreme contrast between the bright sunlit backgrounds to these innocent visions, as against the darkness of the later depictions of Biblical, mythological, historical subjects; even portraits of nobility. It is very tempting to think that these light and dark aspects of Goya’s work express two sides of Spanish culture that continue to fascinate us today.
In music, as in other areas of life, we gain our understanding of a style or a larger entity by a gradual accumulation of little bits of information, many if not most of them seemingly trite or insignificant. And then slowly we discover for ourselves our own version of the truth.
For the English, Germany is beer, sausages, oompah music and girls in dirndl dresses: France, berets, strings of onions, intellectuals sitting about in cafes smoking and conducting intellectual love affairs: Italy, opera, pasta and perhaps less intellectual love affairs: but Spain is something altogether more complex and mysterious. Behind the façade of flamenco, bullfights, dark-haired sultry women wearing red, (and throw in a tambourine and a pair of castanets) lies a fascination with something we seem to lack, a deep engagement with life and love and with the moment. We in our workaday lives seem worlds away from the proud beauty of flamenco; both in the dance, where the ritualised confrontation between man and woman has a directness we constantly shy away from, and in the music in which hypnotic slow improvisation gives way to furiously rhythmic urgency, and the keening of the voice speaks of age-old tragedy and suffering.
The two most important influences on the Spanish musical style are generally thought to be the centuries of Moorish rule from the early 8th century AD, and that of the nomadic gypsies.
As a musician, I would extract perhaps the most vivid elements of flamenco (derived from what is idiomatic and comfortable on the guitar) such as the alternation of a major chord and the minor one a step above it, which gives rise inevitably to a very Arabic-sounding scale. There is the tendency to decorate either the first note of a phrase or the last, or often both. From flamenco vocal music we frequently notice a tragic falling semitone which has a keening quality, and from the dance itself the strumming and stamping rhythms of familiar dance-forms such as the fandango, habañera and bolero, but also of less well-known ones like the jota and the buleria. The origin of flamenco music is probably a much-disputed point, but it is generally thought to be imported by gypsies; it is notable how similar much of the Spanish style is to the music of the Balkans, where gypsy culture has also had a profound influence, even though there, as elsewhere, they have suffered great persecution.
As a composer asked to supply a piece that conjures up “Spain”, it is bound to be hard to avoid the clichés that pepper so many popular “exotic” LPs from the 60s and 70s (just look at their garish covers).
Remember also the huge influence of Iberian culture on the music of South America and the Caribbean, in a synthesis with West African music imported by slaves and as a consequence of more recent migration, on North America too. Hence the inclusion on this album of two tangos and a salsa tune.
Strangely, many listeners’ impressions of a Spanish musical style have been gained through the filter of key non-Spaniards such as Bizet, Ravel, Debussy and of course Gil Evans. The authenticity of these great composers’ re-interpretations of Spanish music is confirmed by comparing them to the works of da Falla, Albéniz and Granados, and one should also add of course Rodrigo, whose Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar was sensitively but faithfully rewritten by Gil Evans in the album “Sketches of Spain”. The latter is surely the biggest giant peering over the shoulders of all the jazz composers featured on this album. Or perhaps they are straddling his and other shoulders?
The small elements of style I have referred to above (pardon the technical language) may be only tiny seeds, but have the capacity to grow into the most variegated, lush and sprawling vegetation with the care and nurture of the right green fingers.
Green fingers we have in plenty in this album!
© David Powell, 2011
1. Anon, arranged by Jock McKenzie - Como Poden Per Sas Culpas
2. Gareth Wood - Tientos y Danzas / Movement 1
3. Gareth Wood - Tientos y Danzas / Movement 2
4. Gareth Wood - Tientos y Danzas / Movement 3
5. Gareth Wood - Tientos y Danzas / Movement 4
6. Anon, arranged by Jock McKenzie - Dindirindin
7. Steve Waterman - Fugatango
8. Jean-Baptiste Lully, arranged by Jock McKenzie - Air des Espagnoles
9. Mark Bassey - Donde el Mar Saluda al Cielo
10. Luis Tomas de Victoria, arranged by David Powell - Homenaje a Don Luis de Victoria
11. Gaspar Sanz, arranged by David Powell - Los Canarios
12. Jim Rattigan - Juanear
13. Colin Skiner - La Perla Negra
14. David Powell - Dulcinea
15. Mark Lockheart - Castles in Spain
16. Ernesto Lecuona, arranged by Stuart Malcolm - Malagueña
1. Como poden per sas Culpas – Anon, arr. Jock McKenzie
The Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of the Blessed Virgin Mary), composed at the Court of King Alfonso X of Castile in the second half of the 13th century, are a vast repertory of poetry in medieval Galician. The 420 compositions include 353 narratives of miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as numerous devotional and liturgical poems, almost all set to music. Jock Mackenzie’s fine arrangement of this canticle, in which contrasting meters evoke the limping of a lame man then healed by the Virgin Mary, features the piccolo trumpet playing of Brian Thomson and Paul Mayes.
2. Tientos y Danzas – Gareth Wood
Gareth has written many works for orchestra, wind band and brass band, Gareth was also a double bass player in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), where he also serving as Chairman and wrote several works for the orchestra.
This suite, in four movements, was written for Superbrass. It is not literally descriptive, but conjures up a breezy, festive atmosphere. The title Tientos stems from the fact that a lot of the brass writing is reminiscent of virtuosic Renaissance keyboard finger-work (a “Tiento” is the Spanish equivalent of a toccata). Only later did we discover that the word is also the name of a style of flamenco dancing, which links nicely with Danzas (dances).
The first movement is an extended fanfare, with military rhythms on the tenor drums and dramatic trumpet and horn calls. Next comes a witty waltz featuring the French horn. The music builds in complexity; the main horn theme returns before a playful coda. The following Andante makes effective use of the mutes, both in the haunting opening “pyramid” chords, and in the elaborate, recurrent trumpet duets; the two trumpets have the last word. After a couple of false starts, the finale sets off at a cracking pace, with dislocated accents creating an irregular rhythmic pulse. There are opportunities for every instrument to shine (metaphorically) and the music gets even faster for a thrilling conclusion.
3. Dindirindin – Anon, arr. Jock McKenzie
This is a type of 15th-century Iberian stanzaic song called a villancico; the nearest English equivalent would be a madrigal. The language is not quite Spanish, but a kind of Mediterranean Lingua Franca. The title might almost translate as “tweet tweet tweet”, since the song is about a lover going into his garden before dawn to gather flowers, hearing a nightingale sing, and asking the bird to tell his lover that he is already married. A simple and charming song, with alternating triple and duple metres, skilfully arranged and ornamented by Jock McKenzie it features Brian Thomson on the piccolo trumpet.
4. Fugatango – Steve Waterman
Top British jazz trumpeter Steve Waterman began his career while studying at TCM, and has since supported, recorded and collaborated with a variety of leading jazz soloists and band leaders. As a composer he has written and recorded numerous big band works. He is Professor of Jazz Trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music and TCM, and visiting Jazz Trumpet specialist at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
“When Roger Argente approached me to write a composition for this Spanish-flavoured brass project he made the suggestion that a tango, although more Argentine than Spanish, would fit in well. I have always been a very big fan of the music of Argentine composer Piazzolla, particularly the way the tango can be combined with jazz. Roger and I both thought it would be good to let some of the improvising musicians in the ensemble shine in a solo capacity. As the composition progressed, a fugato also emerged, hence the title Fugatango.” It features solos from Chris Parkes on french horn and Andy Wood on muted trombone.
5. Air des Espagnoles – Jean-Baptiste Lully, arr. Jock McKenzie
French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) was court composer for King Louis XIV at Versailles. His duties included supplying music for grandiose court entertainments; in collaboration with the playwright Molière, he created a new form, the comédie-ballet. This piece is part of the music to Molière’s sharply satirical comédie-ballet, Le Bourgeois Gentil’homme. In this arrangement, the elaborate solo line is played with poise and elegance on the piccolo trumpet by Philip Cobb.
6. Donde el Mar Saluda al Cielo – Mark Bassey
Versatile jazz trombonist and composer Mark Bassey has written numerous compositions and arrangements, many of which have been recorded and broadcast. He has been involved with jazz education for over 25 years, teaching at colleges including TCM and the Royal Academy of Music. In 2007, Mark Bassey was commissioned by Superbrass to write a trombone feature for Andy Wood. Mark writes: “Roger asked for something not-too-fast with a Spanish flavour – so I created a slow bossa nova with just a hint of bolero, vaguely in the tradition of Jobim with undertones of Ravel. It’s a fine vehicle for Andy’s beautiful tone and virtuosic skills.”
7. Homenaje a Don Luis de Victoria – Luis Tomas de Victoria, arr. David Powell
Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) was one of the most important musicians of his time. Victoria was influenced by Palestrina and became a master of counterpoint, yet shunned the more ostentatious contrapuntal lines of his contemporaries in favour of simpler textures, combined with mystical intensity and emotional directness.
David Powell writes: “The Christmas motet O Magnum Mysterium is probably the best-known work by Victoria. Originally for four voices, the text expresses adoration of the Christ child in the manger. The simple interweaving lines transfer beautifully to brass. However, it was suggested that this should be more than just a transcription. I thought of the way performers such as Mark Lockheart and Jan Garbarek have layered their improvisations over existing choral pieces. I had an idea of the kind of music the composer would have heard on the streets, so I have taken the liberty of interpolating some extra folkloric elements into the score at certain cadential points; the out-of-tune playing is intentional! I wanted to achieve this without marring the beauty of Victoria’s original.” Philip Cobb leads the classical section on trumpet and Mike Lovatt improvises on flugal horn throughout.
8. Los Canarios – Gaspar Sanz, arr. David Powell
Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), “The Master of the Spanish Baroque Guitar”, was an Aragonese composer, guitarist, organist, teacher and priest. The 90 guitar works he wrote form an important part of today's classical guitar repertory. David Powell explains: “I first heard Los Canarios in a version for Andean panpipes; then later in a more conventional version for Baroque guitar. I love its simplicity and its dance-like vigour. This brass arrangement has given me the luxury of being able to exploit the virtuosity of the fine players of Superbrass.
9. Juanear – Jim Rattigan
Jim Rattigan has performed worldwide as a jazz soloist and a band member. Jim studied French horn at TCM and the RAM before embarking on a freelance career working with the major London symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras and ensembles. He played with the RPO for six years, before leaving to concentrate on composition and jazz.
Jim is a frequent visitor to the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque province of Northern Spain. The idea for Juanear (meaning “to dupe”) came on one such visit, where Jim encountered the lively town band playing Latin jazz. He was particularly impressed with Juan, the enthusiastic trombone soloist, and Miguel, the crazy trumpeter who played by ear, and was never happier than when playing everything an octave (or two) above the ozone layer. Mike Lovatt plays lead trumpet on this work and Andy Wood improvises on the baritone.
10. La Perla Negra – Colin Skinner
Colin studied bassoon at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and has played with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Further study, this time on the saxophone followed at TCM. Since graduating he has performed in numerous ensembles and West End shows, as well as with artists including Shirley Bassey, Billy May, Sacha Distell, Tony Bennett and Kevin Spacey.
Colin explains this work’s storyline: “An old man sits alone in a bar whilst an accordionist plays a slow tango. A beautiful woman enters wearing a black pearl necklace, and proceeds to dance with the old man. The music becomes more spirited, faster and more virile as he feels youthful again. After a passionate kiss the man loses consciousness; when he awakes he is back in the bar, alone but for the accordionist. As the old man contemplates his dream, he notices a single black pearl left on the bar. The brooding mood is lightened in the middle section by a deliberately trite, stylised trumpet duet, before the opening material returns and fades.
11. Dulcinea – David Powell
A graduate of London University and the Royal Academy of Music, David has had a long and varied career as a freelance tuba player, teacher, animateur, arranger and composer. Besides working regularly with classical orchestras and contemporary ensembles, he has played with great jazz musicians such as Mike Westbrook, John Dankworth, Billy Cobham and Peter Gabriel. He has very recently taken on the role of Musical Director for the 2011 summer season production of ‘Much Ado’ at Shakespeare’s Globe.
David Powell writes: “I still treasure a beautifully illustrated children’s book of Don Quixote, given to me as a boy. Dulcinea is the girl in the neighbouring village with whom the hopelessly deluded Don falls in love. However, this piece was not conceived as a tone-poem; rather, the title seems to fit the music. I originally wrote the opening theme for a production of The ‘Tempest’ given by a theatre company integrating disabled and able-bodied performers. The piece is influenced by Gil Evans and Ravel, and is dedicated to the director of that ‘Tempest’, my wonderful friend Jane Kingshill.” Mike Lovatt plays the almost haunting flugal horn solo at the opening and Andy Wood is the trombone soloist.
12. Castles in Spain – Mark Lockheart
As a saxophonist and composer, Mark Lockheart’s work embraces jazz, new music and folk, working with artists from the Orlando Consort to Radiohead. Mark’s CD Through Rose-Coloured Glasses was one of Time Out’s Top Ten albums of 1998. In 2010 Mark was awarded 'Parliamentary Jazz Musician of the Year'. Mark teaches at TCM and the Royal Academy of Music.
The composer writes: “Castles In Spain is loosely inspired by the Gil Evans/Miles Davis album Sketches Of Spain. The stately theme and brooding atmosphere conjure up the visionary adventures of Don Quixote on his travels through Spain. The muted trumpet solo represents the impassioned Saeta flamenco singing, and the processional feel throughout evokes images of the religious festival Semana Santa.” Lockheart’s imaginative use of the marimba enables him to create an ostinato which would be unidiomatic and fatiguing on brass – one of many instances of imaginative percussion writing on this disc. In the main section, the scraps of melody seem to float capriciously above this hypnotic background, and the tempo speeds up for the sections featuring improvised solos from Jim Lynch on harmon muted trumpet, Andy Wood on flugelbone and Frank Ricotti on marimba.
13. Malagueña – Ernesto Lecuona, arr. Stuart Malcolm
Ernesto Lecuona y Casado (1895-1963) was a Cuban composer of Spanish heritage. Lecuona was a prolific composer of songs and music for stage and film which regularly used stylistic combinations of Spanish Zarzuela, Afro-Cuban and Cuban rhythmic patterns. In 1960, unhappy with Castro's new régime, Lecuona moved to Tampa, Florida and lived his final years in the US. Originally the sixth movement of Lecuona’s Suite Andalucia for solo piano, Malagueña has since become a jazz standard. Bill Holman's arrangement for the Stan Kenton Orchestra re-imagined the song as a fiery big band showpiece, from which comes the inspiration for this arrangement.
Credits & Dedications
I want to not only thank the staggering array of talented musicians who took part on this recording, but the superb team of “backroom staff” all listed below, without whom none of this would have been possible.
Finally I want to thank the wonderful arrangers, Jock McKenzie, Dave Powell & Stuart Malcolm and the truly inspiring composers who all wrote originals works especially for this project, Gareth Wood, Steve Waterman, Mark Bassey, Jim Rattigan, Colin Skinner, Dave Powell and Mark Lockheart.
I’d like to dedicate this album to the unsung hero’s of the music biz!
The wonderfully vibrant, exciting and versatile world of the London free-lance musician,
who on a daily basis turn up, come rain or shine to rehearse, to record, to teach, to perform… usually with no fuss, but always with consummate professionalism!
I work with you every day this is a tribute to you all !
Mike Allen - trumpet
Philip Cobb - trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Toby Coles - trumpet
Mike Lovatt - trumpet, flugal horn
Jim Lynch - trumpet, flugal horn
Paul Mayes - trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Brian Thomson - trumpet, flugal horn, piccolo trumpet
Adam Wright - trumpet
Chris Parkes - french horn, tenor horn
Matthew Gee - trombone, euphonium
Mike Hext - trombone
Phil White - trombone
Andy Wood - trombone, baritone, flugalbone
Roger Argente - bass trombone
Kevin Morgan - tuba
Andy Barclay - percussion
Paul Clarvis - percussion
Michael Doran - percussion
Matt Perry - percussion
Frank Ricotti - percussion
Mike Smith - drums
Music Preparation by Richard Payne.
Sleeve Notes by Joanna Wyld at "Notes Upon Notes".
Breakfast & regular sustenance by Onel and all the staff at The New Bridge Cafe.
Studio set-up help by Charlie Bryson at Music Bank Studios.
Video footage by Pete & Andy at FormatMedia.
Still photography by Pete Beachill, with additional contributions by Jon Heeley.
Sessions coordinated by Julian Hepple.
CD Booklet design by Bridget Saunders.
Coffee re-filling and extra special thanks to Dan Chadwick & Jon Heeley, our studio runners.
Recorded edited & mixed by Tom Watson of Prozone Music.
Associate Producer - Julian Hepple.
Producer - John Hutchinson.
Executive Producer - Roger Argente.
© Roger Argente, 2011