RONG ON RIGHT PATH - BB shines a light on one of the rising stars of Norwegian banding

Issue 6062

BACK IN BUSINESS - Boost for bands in England as rehearsals resume

STAGE SET FOR CORY CONTEST - Draw made for online championship, with international flavour

Review: Lions Youth Brass - Reflection

Monday 14 September, 2020

Review: Reflection - Lions Youth Brass. Conductors: Nigel Birch, Tom Hancock, Jamie Sharp. World of Sound.

The formative years of learning a brass instrument are often crucial; if they enjoy their early experiences, young players may just catch a bug to last a lifetime. Lions Youth Brass is a fine example of a band providing the perfect launchpad for many an aspiring brass and percussion player and, having amassed 30 years of existence, opted to mark the milestone with the release of its latest album, Reflection.

Starburst, by Dan Price, bursts into life from the opening percussion groove. This recording comes from the band’s performance at the 2019 Youth Brass in Concert Championship and showcases a good degree of refinement, the sound rarely overblown and the ensemble remaining tight in the face of a melting pot of rhythmic and melodic figures. The lightness of touch in the bossa nova moments of Darrol Barry’s arrangement of Fly Me to the Moon soon opened up into full, unadulterated big band splendour, underpinned by confident kit playing throughout. Dotted around the band are soloists who bely their youthful inexperience; trombonist Oliver Webb was at ease in the upper reaches of Bill Geldard’s Dark Eyes while there was an enchanting, plummy quality to the sound of tenor horn player, Amy Hext, in Closest Thing to Crazy, her performance laced with a melancholic tenderness. Flugelhorn player Leanne Smith, meanwhile, was nicely understated in Under the Boardwalk.

The sense of balance throughout the recording is pleasing, as is the intonation; New York, New York is a fine example, even if the swing-feel is a little stilted.

Embracing their moment in the spotlight were members of the cornet section in another Bill Geldard arrangement, Trumpet Blues and Cantabile, displaying infectious enthusiasm; the players’ enjoyment bursts through the speakers.

The energy and pulsating joy of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s music lends itself well to Lions Youth Brass; Valiants Arise receives a neat rendition in this album, soprano gleefully rising to the fore when called upon in a reading which drives but retains control.

The focal point of the album is Lions Youth Brass’ performance of Sanctuary, by Daniel Hall, from the 2019 European Youth Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland. From its fanfare-like opening material to the reflective passage which followed, there was a steely confidence to the performance, individually and collectively. Lions captured so much of Hall’s score and could be rightfully proud of its performance at this high-profile event; another memory to cherish for a band of musicians and friends.

After the challenge of Sanctuary, the trombone section let its collective hair down in Blue Moon, a gentle swagger permeating the performance. The balance between soloists and the band is good and it clearly found favour with the audience in The Sage, Gateshead. JS Bach’s Toccata in D Minor (arranged by Jan van Kraeydonck) saw percussion at their virtuosic best; tight, controlled, while never threatening to obliterate their brass playing colleagues. In a much more reflective vein was Robert Childs’ arrangement of A Little Prayer, which showed that marimba soloists Jakob Hill and Emily Savage were equally adept in a more lyrical soundworld.

Lions Youth Brass is a multi-tier organisation and its fledgling Junior and Beginner bands must have relished the opportunity to get involved in the recording process; cue some proud friends and family members after hearing the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody (Junior Band) performed with heaps of youth exuberance. In Guava Guy was a rock-steady sense of pulse from the Beginner Band, the fundamentals clearly instilled from the earliest stages of playing.

In the closing moments were the considerable forces of a Reunion Band, from the sinister bass lines of Slaidburn to the infectious enthusiasm in Alan Fernie’s African Funk – forget toe-tapping, it’ll have you shimmying across your living room. Jubilation, by James Curnow, brought down the curtain in assured fashion.

The finales were the icing on the cake of an entertaining release from Lions Youth Brass and its musical directing team, spearheaded by Nigel Birch. It looks the part too, neatly presented, with informative sleeve notes including a tribute to late stalwart, Brian Stubbs.

With some of the recordings undertaken shortly before lockdown ensued, the album is the perfect antidote for anyone missing their banding ‘fix’ in the midst of the pandemic.

Mark Good

Programme: 3

Performance: 3

Overall Presentation: 4

Recording Quality: 5