Maritime Jazz Orchestra: Now and Now Again

Maurice Bottomley

Maritime Jazz Orchestra

Now and Now Again

Label: Justin Time
US Release Date: 2002-04-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

The Maritime Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of saxophonist Greg Carter, have steadily been acquiring a reputation for large group playing that is "advanced" but not unduly intimidating. This set, which draws once more on the talents of Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, and Norma Winstone, is probably their most accomplished and demonstrates that there is more to contemporary big band jazz than merely revisiting past glories.

Genuinely "Orchestral" rather than simply "Big Band", this music does require space and time to fully appreciate its many merits. Mere toe dipping won't work, I'm afraid. Full immersion is required. Don't panic though. With musicians such as the above you are in safe and seasoned hands. The Canadian-born (but London-based) Wheeler is at the heart of this project and he alone brings almost fifty years of experience with him. His English cohorts, John Taylor and Norma Winstone, are nowadays part of the avant-garde establishment (and that is not as oxymoronic as it sounds). They have a long association with Wheeler (as part of Azimuth) and share the same sense of adventure coupled with a belief in solid musicianship. Such is the very solid platform on which this ambitious project is built.

Now and Now Again consists of four sections. Wheeler contributes three of these, with Taylor making up the difference with "Pure and Simple". The latter owes much of its poetic charm to the vocals of Norma Winstone, who elsewhere takes rather a back seat. Her singing style is something of an acquired taste and a little frosty for me, but she has an empathy with Taylor's rather oblique approach to the piano that is mutually beneficial. Wheeler's "W.W." and the title track are two melodically inventive and typically articulate affairs, but it is his opening effort, the lengthy "Sweet Ruby Suite", which dominates the session.

More tightly structured than the other pieces, the "Suite" has a grandeur to it that is suitably imposing. Happily, it is also awash with colour and so avoids any austere haughtiness. Thelonious Monk-derived, of course, it has at times a Gil Evans feel and at others a cinematically impressionistic quality. These three factors give it an immediacy that the subsequent, looser and more fragmentary, experiments lack. It doesn't exactly swing (the major drawback to the album as a whole) but it is dynamic enough to ensure that its thirty minutes duration positively flies by.

In that time there are some truly meaty solos. Mike Murley on tenor sax and Wheeler himself on flugelhorn are perhaps the pick. Guitarist Alan Sutherland adds bite and the soprano sax of Kirk McDonald manages to avoid the clichés usually associated with that instrument. In the end though it is the ensemble sound that makes or breaks a big band and "Sweet Ruby Suite", perhaps because of its more controlled arrangements, is the piece which allows the full orchestral strength of the 19 players to shine through.

Urban yet oddly spacious, rich in tone and texture, the results are satisfying in a way the shorter compositions (which are not actually that short) don't quite match. Although adequately open-ended, it is carefully crafted and varied in mood. The other tracks don't exactly pale by comparison, it is just that "Sweet Ruby" would stand out in almost any company.

I don't think this is music simply for aficionados, complex as it sometimes appears. Anyone at all drawn to orchestral sounds, be they classical, Ellingtonian, or Hollywood inspired, will at least appreciate the intentions and scope of the Maritime endeavour. Long-standing Wheeler devotees will be particularly gladdened to hear their hero still in such strong voice, both as performer and composer.

There is something of a revival of interest in the larger group format lately and this recording should find a more ready audience than it might have done ten years ago. Its pleasures are a little rarefied and the modernisms a little too fractured for mass appeal perhaps but it is by no means a purely academic exercise. It is thoughtful, it is contemporary but, crucially, it aligns the imaginative freedoms of the players to the traditional textural strengths that an enhanced personnel allows. As such, it does what it sets out to do -- to show the continuing validity of the big band in a twenty-first century context. Which, in my opinion, is no bad thing.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.