MARVELLOUS MARCUS - BB meets composer and performer, Marcus Venables

Issue 6103

NATIONALS UNCERTAINTY - Bands withdraw amid COVID concerns

TIME CAPSULE - Sandy Smith on a magical moment in time for Black Dyke

Album review: Saluting the Kings of Swing - JSVB Legacy Band

Friday 18 June, 2021

Saluting the Kings of Swing - JSVB Legacy Band. Conductor: David Thornton. IBB Media Ltd.


For years, James Shepherd Versatile Brass was a hallmark of quality and musical integrity. The ensemble’s fresh approach and virtuosic brand of music making entertained audiences all over the world.

To revive such a lauded name – and to do justice to it – requires vision and determination but most of all, it requires unfailingly high standards. Lucky, then, that this JSVB Legacy Band reads like a who’s who of elite level banding, principal players from the likes of Black Dyke, Cory, Brighouse and Rastrick and Foden’s joining forces under the baton of Grimethorpe Colliery Band’s MD, David Thornton.

The first in what is to be a series of albums is entitled Saluting the Kings of Swing and bursts into life from the early stages, the Bugle Call Rag bristling with energy, driving forward at every opportunity. There’s a tightness to the ensemble playing which belies the COVID-related challenges that would have been faced in bringing the project together, not least in getting everyone in the same room.

The arranging skills of Kevin Holdgate feature prominently on the release and his Caravan provides a marvellous showcase for soloists Richard Marshall, Mark Harrison and Brett Baker, underpinned by an unrelenting groove from bass player, Gavin Saynor.

There’s a cheekiness to I Got Rhythm, a gentle swagger on top of which Mark Harrison embraces the opportunity to demonstrate his versatility, transporting the listener to a smoke-filled jazz bar of old. The ensemble playing is tight, well-balanced and never in danger of overwhelming the leading line.

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band enjoys a sterling reputation and it is to the renowned ensemble the JSVB Legacy Band turns in Count Bubba. There’s an authenticity to the swing style in this chart, especially from the upper brass, and the often-florid lines are razor sharp in their execution. It’s alluring, engaging material, especially when one remembers that this isn’t a group that meets regularly, albeit one comprising a cherry-picked selection of esteemed performers.

Tall Cotton shuffles with ease, trombone soloist Brett Baker suitably understated but ready to burst into life when required with just the right amount of swinging, devilish charm. The musical dialogue with the rest of the ensemble is neatly done, David Thornton ensuring good balance throughout.

Opening with thundering percussion, Sing, Sang, Sung is energetic and purposeful. Only momentarily does the tightness of the ensemble diminish slightly but the playing exudes character through to the close.

Returning to the sound world of Gordon Goodwin and his famous band, Hunting Wabbits enjoys a neatness and keen attention to detail as the intricate lines knit together well.

Chicago enjoys a glitzy sheen, evoking images of the kind of well-heeled cocktail parties which have been a no-go in this pandemic-ridden, lockdown age; what a joy it will be to enjoy live music in the company of others.

Mark Harrison inhibits the world of Duke Ellington in Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, his trumpet sound bright and engaging and the stylistic approach taking just the right amount of musical freedom.

Hawaiian War Chant sizzles from the off, muted upper brass underpinned by inimitable drum kit; indeed, the playing of Mark Landon and Anthony Mann is the glue that binds much of this dynamic release together. Fleeting solo lines are passed around the ensemble in what is perhaps one of the standout charts of the entire album; fast-paced and full of fun.

Backrow Politics sets its stall out from the crisp opening bars. The tightness in the high end is mightily impressive, ornaments and all, and David Thornton draws a huge amount of variety of colour from Kevin Holdgate’s engaging arrangement. There’s a steely confidence to the solo playing, emphasising the comfort these players have at turning their attentions to a style for which brass bands are often pilloried.

Reid Gilje’s up-tempo take on the Anvil Chorus brings the curtain down on this debut album from the JSVB Legacy Band with some style in what is a dynamic performance.

The audio quality is excellent throughout, well balanced while retaining an authenticity that is sometimes lost in the edit. Accompanying notes would further enhance this release and shine a spotlight on the journey taken to bring it to fruition.

In its heyday, James Shepherd Versatile Brass – with its inspirational leader – pushed the envelope when it came to brass music entertainment. That baton has now been passed to a new generation, with the outstanding JSVB Legacy Band staying true to the pursuit of excellence while bringing a fresh musical approach to these singing, swinging charts.

Thankfully, there’s more to come.

Mark Good.

Available from Friday, June 25 at:

Programme: 5

Performance: 5

Overall Presentation: 4

Recording Quality: 5