Mike Westbrook

COMPOSERS: Mike Westbrook
WORKS: The Orchestra of Smith’s Academy
PERFORMER: Mike Westbrook Orchestra, Steve Martland Band
Catching the 22-piece Mike Westbrook Orchestra at something of an artistic peak, in autumn 1992, this album showcases not only the manifold gifts of Britain’s foremost jazz composer, but also the joyous exuberance – and tight discipline – of one of the most artistically satisfying units he has ever led. Drawing material from many of Westbrook’s most celebrated projects – On Duke’s Birthday, London Bridge is Broken Down, After Smith’s Hotel – the Crawley Festival recording positively seethes with energy and ideas. The grounding of a number of Westbrook’s pieces in the blues (also the basis, via Jimmy Yancey, of the album’s concluding 23-minute composition performed by Steve Martland’s band) provides relatively easy access to their many harmonic and rhythmic complexities, but the power of Kate Westbrook’s characteristically intelligent texts and dramatic vocals lifts this superb live set into the realms of music memorably described by Westbrook’s chief inspiration, Duke Ellington, as ‘beyond category’. Chris Parker