Gareth Lockrane – Fistfight at the Barndance (2017)

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Gareth Lockrane is becoming one of the U.K.’s most respected flautists, composers and educators, and on Fistfight at the Barndance, he brings to Whirlwind Records an interpretation of 11 original works using a 20-piece group. Recorded in London across a single day, the project mastered in New York by Tyler McDiarmid.

The opening title track for Fistfight at the Barndance is mighty fine, with flute setting off at a pace over the top of a big band sound. Fulsome and melodic tones delight with a lot of swing and solos from each section. A well developed and intricate trombone solo leaps out of the mass of sound, before the brass introduce the flute of Gareth Lockrane once more. Amid many fanfares and trills, his flute floats out over the top in a light, joyful solo before a rhythmic interjection, clapping and percussion. Then, there’s another blast from the brass and the big band sound is back.

In this track, the rhythmic alterations are subtle in some places, and very clear in others. Everyone in the Gareth Lockrane Big Band – from piano to drums to the horns – gets a chance to show their talent. I have to admit to wanting it just a tad shorter because, whilst live this would be great, there are a lot of similar rhythms played by different sections, and again and again, which for a listener is not so engaging. Nonetheless, this is good music.

“Do It” is different, and sets up with a Latin-tinged beat driven by the guitar and drums. To this beat are attached little snippets of sound, from a short seven-note run to a slower time-changed motif. There is a beautiful and well-honed sax solo which morphs into a trumpet solo, which is also managed well and supported by the rest of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band. The guitar then takes a solo spot, before a slide down to the brass and wood section en masse over which the sax solos again before a rhythmic change. Then we are back in big band mode mostly until the finish.

Fistfight at the Barndance continues with “We’ll Never Meet Again,” a soft, gentle and a great vehicle for flute over equally gentle and supportive band work. The trumpet takes the theme, gently expanding it and handing it back, gently, to the flute again. There is a lovely brass section, and the woodwind add touches of their own before the flute, then guitar, then trumpet, then flute again once again serenades over the top with the melody. The very end section has a lovely clarinet part.

“On the Fly” contains in its middle depths a great sax spot, and “Stutterfunk” offers something quite different and distinctly sassy amidst the “big bandedness” of it all. Here are funky little rhythms over which the flutes, the brass and the whole orchestra in turn overtop, support and blend to create a rhythmic, rolling sound, with the Rhodes sound making good on this track. “Forever Now” is melodic from the start, with the flute introducing a theme which is soft, atmospheric and very sweet. It lifts to a searing sax solo then the whole band returns. “Aby7innia” is clever, and demonstrates that rhythms don’t have to follow familiar patterns. The sax and trumpets bite into this difference with glee.

“Roots” is more sleazy, laid back and slightly on the slide. A bluesy overtone to this number and one which the band delivers well. Combining drowsy, laid-back sections with big band blasts from brass and woodwind makes this an interesting piece on the ears – that and the solos contained. This is probably the most diverse track the Gareth Lockrane Big Band offers here, with subtle changes and interesting arrangements for the instruments. It also never forgets it is a band number. Quite possibly the highlight track on Fistfight at the Barndance.

“Mel’s Spell” starts with percussion and then develops into an all comers piece, with flutes leading the rest in a musical journey which spans several musical landscapes – from large upwellings from the full band to tricky little solo excerpts over horns and drums. The flute solo, as you might expect, is deft and superbly delivered and, indeed, spellbinding as it takes, passes across and re-takes the theme.

“One For Junia” is gentle, relaxed and atmospheric until it builds with layer upon layer of additional instruments before the flute solos over the top. A busy, musically challenging piece, with a lovely sax interlude, made to sound easy by the band. “Boogie” closes the album and is a rolling, swinging piece with chances for everyone to show their mettle – which they do.

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band does not always sound like a big band on Fistfight at the Barndance; on occasion they sound like a collection of individuals, but that is a fine thing in this context – and the music composition is responsible for this. At times, the musicians come easily together and, at others, individuals make the whole, which is all fine and makes for eclectic and interesting listening. There is perhaps, for such a large musical gathering, something of a lack of emotive input in the music, and it feels very controlled and correct. Just occasionally, there is too much in a track in the way of changes but this is where listening to at home is a very different experience from seeing a big band live.

I have seen Gareth Lockrane conducting a large ensemble, and also as a soloist with the Jason Lyon trio, and live he is interesting and engaging. Occasionally, the music makes you feel like you are on the set of a ’60s TV series; other times, like you are just someplace else. So, Fistfight at the Barndance offers a real mix of musical atmospheres and essences. There’s a sense of more development and intrigue to come.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein

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