Another Think Coming

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Provocateur
ALBUM TITLE: Colin Towns Mask Orchestra
PERFORMER: Colin Towns (ky), John Barclay, Derek Watkins, Graham Russell, Henry Lowther, Guy Barker, Stuart Brooks (t, flhn), Andy Wood, Mark Nightingale, Pete Beachill, Richard Edwards (tb), Roger Williams (btb, tba), Nigel Hitchcock, Alan Skidmore (ss, ts), Pet
CATALOGUE NO: PVC 1028

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In its decade-long existence (this is the band’s fifth album), the Mask Orchestra has performed two vital services to jazz: first, by showcasing the often undersung talents of many unknown players; and second, by providing an outlet for the jazz composing and arranging skills of Colin Towns. Much has been made, in accounting for the immediate appeal of Towns’s music – packed with instantly memorable themes – of his film-soundtrack work.

This album’s opening piece, for instance, with its ferociously energetic arrangement evoking primarily visual images – an almost pyrotechnical display – draws on many of the skills honed by Towns’s work for that genre. His ballad work, too, is swooningly emotive and irresistibly affecting in the manner of all great film music, but it is in the great modern jazz big-band tradition, embracing the likes of Gil Evans, George Russell, Maria Schneider and Mike Gibbs, that Towns’s work truly belongs.

Like Evans et al Towns happily draws inspiration from non-jazz sources (here, John Lennon’s psychedelic classic ‘I am the Walrus’ is given an appropriately shrieking arrangement), but his use of electric basses and keyboards, though effective, is sparing. For like all great jazz composers, Towns is most skilful at deploying his forces.

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And so, whether they’re roaring through a rambunctious original or accentuating all the delicate charm of Debussy’s ‘Rêverie’, Towns’s orchestra shows on this rich, powerful, yet subtle album, why Towns is so widely respected on the UK jazz scene. Chris Parker