CD cover - Art of the StatesArt of the States

13-Dec-2003

Eikanger Bjørsvik Band
Conductor: Reid Gilje
Soloists: Grethe Tonheim, Tormod Flaten, Rolf Bjorge, Camilla Sjovold, Martin Winter, Siri Smith
Doyen Recordings: CD152
Total Playing Time: 69.53

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It is said of the Japanese that they pinch all the best ideas, copy them, improve them and then sell them back to the original owners twice as good as they were when they first got their mitts on them. Whereas the Brits had the Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, the Land of Rising Sun came back with the Honda Fireblade; where we had the wireless, our friends in Japan gave us the personal stereo, and where we were leaking oil on the A1 and listening to Tommy Steele on a radiogramme the size of a wardrobe, our rivals were burning up the motorway at 150mph listening to Kylie on their MP3 players.

When it came to brass bands though...

For many a year we Brits quite fairly thought that there was one medium in the banding world that no one could do better – the brass band entertainment programme. Just like the motorcycles, we have been going about it for close on a hundred years – solid, sturdy and completely and utterly out of date. .

Well. Just like our Japanese friends, it seems the time has come when even this bastion of British excellence has been overcome, with the release of an absolute cracking CD from the Eikanger–Bjorsvik Mussiklag Band, which arrives spankingly showroom shiny and sparkling with the kind of extras, gizmos and Director cut add-ons that makes the traditional British concert dish of March, Overture and Solo seem like matching a Morris Minor against a Audi TT – they may both be motor cars with the basic same shape, but one pulls the birds and goes like the proverbial off a shovel whilst the other is the chosen vehicle for social workers.

This is brass band entertainment from another planet.

Eikanger's reputation for innovation on an original theme is well earned – their concert programmes have pushed the boundaries of brass band capabilities to the full, whilst their contest entertainment programmes at the Norwegian SIDDIS Contest have been ground breaking. They don't always win, but by heck, they give you something to remember. It seems our friends from Norway have pinched the 1970's blueprint of our brass band entertainment programme, gone back to Bergen and returned with a V12 turbocharged version of a good old British classic – and it don't ‘arf take the breath away.

This is a showcase one hour and ten minutes of superb brass band entertainment. The playing is quite stunning in technique and execution, the differing styles are mastered in a fashion that is quite astonishing and the musicality of the players at times beggars belief. In addition, the production values and quality are perhaps the best we have come across and the art work on the sleeve cover features a 1963 Thunderbird roadster that that leaves you drooling at the mouth.

The 16 tracks (plus a hidden bonus – of which we will discuss later) all written or arranged by Reid Gilje, Svein H. Giske and Frode Rydland have a quality and musical intelligence behind them that is immensely satisfying, whilst the standard as we have said of both the Eikanger ensemble and the soloists in particular are of a rare class indeed. When we first received the CD a few weeks ago, we put it on the CD player in the car and it has been on just about automatic play ever since – it is that good.

The first seven tracks are made up of the suite "Art of the States" which the band used at SIDDIS in 2002 and which has been brilliantly arranged by the trio to include a bit of Jelly Roll Morton (who's real name was Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, and who's nickname was arrived at in a fashion that cannot be discussed in front of the children), Scot Joplin, George Gershwin, Pat Matheny, Al Jolson and even a bit of old Frank Zappa. It is a 25 minute long showcase of Americana that is wonderfully brought to life and includes some brilliant mock clarinet playing on the Morton, a super bit of trombone playing on the Gershwin and a wonderful bit of slapstick euph dueting on the Al Jolson (complete with a strange bit of a Norwegian Morecombe and Wise routine and the best bit of jazz trumpet wangling on the reprise from Martin Winter that you have heard for many a day).

That sets the tone for the rest of the CD – and the rest does not disappoint in any way shape or form.

Eikanger push themselves to the limit both technically and musically and explore themes and variations that just about any British band would find beyond them. Everything from Duke Ellington's "Caravan" in the great "Tour de Band" to Freddie Mercury's "Love of My Life" are superbly delivered with even the slightly more obscure items such as Pat Methany's "Letter from Home" and "Bring Back that Leroy Brown" sounding ideal brass band vehicles.

The soloists as we have said are top notch. Grethe Tonheim on trombone really captures the essence of Ella Fitzgerald on "Someone to Watch Over Me" – beautifully understated and letting the melodic line ooze simple sentimentality, whilst the duet of Tormod Flaten and Rolf Bjorge has that perfect 1950's Rat Pack feel of the two slightly inebriated superstars of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. enjoying themselves a tad too much at the "Dunes" nightclub in Las Vegas. Camilla Sjovold gives a spanker of a "Children of Sanchez" whilst Martin Winter is, well... words fail at times. The bass end of the band also deserve a mention as well – try asking your Bb players to try some of the stuff these lads can manage.

The only item that doesn't work for us though is Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" which even as brilliantly played as this is, can never catch the pathos and sorrow that it does in the original. And, why oh why has it become the custom to refer to such as truly great piece of music as the theme music from Oliver Stone's "Platoon" - as if it was originally written for the overblown, bombastic piece of "We won the Vietnam War" propaganda that was the film, is also beyond us. Next up – Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" as written for Eddie Murphy's "Changing Places"?

That though is the only miniscule gripe we could find with this fantastic release. Everything about it (except for the last bit of pandering to Hollywood) is quite stunningly realised, right from the very first mysterious note (and sublime vocals) on the opening track to the final note on the "hidden extra" that is Martin Winter in stratospheric form on the Thad Jones "When a Child is Born". (It's nicked from his own recent CD – but who cares?)

This track comes about 20 seconds after the official ending to the CD, so do not, and we repeat, do not stop and take the disc out of your player – you will miss something quite spine chillingly, eye poppingly awesome that you will just start laughing one of those "how the hell does he do it?" type of laughs. The man is not quite human, whilst you can have hours of fun this Xmas playing havoc with your grannies hearing aid and making your pet poodle go bonkers.

Finally – a bit of an apology. We have had the CD for about three weeks and haven't got around to reviewing it until now. That was not because of laziness on our behalf, but because we have enjoyed it so much we just kept playing and playing it on our CD players. There are very, very few releases we have ever done that for – so it tells you how good this one is then.

Iwan Fox

What's on this CD?

1-7. Art of the States, 25.14
1. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, traditional, arr. Frode
Rydland, 2.34
2. The Cascades, Scott Joplin, arr. Reid Gilje, 2.13
3. Black Bottom Stomp, Jelly Roll Morton, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 3.11
4. Someone to Watch Over Me, Trombone Soloist: Grethe Tonheim, George
Gershwin, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 5.04
5. Me and My Shadow, Euphonium Duet: Tormod Flaten and Rolf Bjørge, Dave
Dreyer/Al Jolson, arr. Frode Rydland, 3.14
6. Holiday in Berlin, Frank Zappa, arr. Reid Gilje, 2.53
7. The Heat of the Day, Pat Metheny, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 6.05
8. Too Soon, Robbie Nevil, arr. Frode Rydland, 3.44
9. Tour de Band, © Nordic Sounds, Michel Camilo/Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington,
arr. Frode Rydland and Svein Henrik Giske, 4.05
10. Letter from Home, Pat Metheny, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 3.04
11. Children of Sanchez, © Nordic Sounds, Flugel Horn Soloist: Camilla
Sjøvold, Chuck Mangione, arr. Reid Gilje, 6.07
12. Dream a Little Dream of Me, Trombone Soloist: Grethe Tonheim, Wilbur
Schwandt/Fabian Andree, arr. Reid Gilje, 3.05
13. Tanga, Cornet Soloist: Martin Winter, Mario Bauza, arr. Reid Gilje,
3.44
14. Bring Back that Leroy Brown, Baritone Soloist: Siri Smith, Freddie
Mercury, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 2.13
15. Love of my Life, Freddie Mercury, arr. Svein Henrik Giske, 4.22
16. Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber, arr. Frode Rydland, 7.40

Total Playing Time: 69.53

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