Under the Spell of Spain

Ole! Under the spell of Superbrass playing. The pros show how its done with a touch of Spanish brilliance...

CD cover - Under the Spell of Spain

Superbrass Recordings: SBCD1
Total Playing Time: 71.02 mins

It may seem a touch presumptuous to call a group ‘Superbrass’, but that indulgence can be forgiven when such players as Mike Lovatt, Michael Hext and Philip Cobb amongst others, come together to produce music of this quality.

Gathered together at the instigation of Roger Argente, bass trombonist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, their first recording concentrates on music with a Spanish connection. It is scintillatingly good.

Great Flexibility

It’s quite an eclectic selection, with transcriptions of early vocal and keyboard pieces sitting neatly alongside newer works; but the juxtaposition is very effective.

With a number of the performers doubling on various instruments, ‘Superbrass’ is a very flexible group, with tenor horn, baritone and euphonium appearing alongside the expected orchestral brass, as well as an intriguingly titled ‘flugelbone’.

Sparkling piccolo trumpets

The level of performance is of an extremely high standard throughout, particularly the dexterity shown in the use of the piccolo trumpet in many of the earlier works.

The six percussionists also have their distinctive part to play, adding an extra dimension to the sound.

The impressive versatility as the players switch seamlessly between the earlier transcriptions and the later more jazz-inflected works, produces a remarkably diverse tonal palette from which to draw.

Inspiration from the past

The arranger’s art is to the fore from the 13th century, ‘Como Poden Per Sas Culpas’ with its piccolo trumpet and drum set against drone-like chords, through to the 17th century ‘Los Canarios’, with its lively compound rhythms, antiphonal effects and trills throughout the ensemble.

‘Dindirindin’, with its alternate triple and duple metres, and Lully’s ‘Air des Espagnoles’ feature lively piccolo trumpet solos from Brian Thompson and Philip Cobb respectively.

Jazz influences

There are several works where jazz is the predominant influence, including ‘Donde de Mar Saluda al Cielo’, a spotlight feature for trombonist Andy Wood in bossa nova style with a tinge of bolero, and Jim Rattigan’s ‘Juanear’, with Mike Lovatt on lead trumpet and Andy Wood offering the rare opportunity to hear an improvised solo played on baritone.

The sultry tango gets a look in, with ‘La Perla Negra’ and Steve Waterman’s ‘Fugatango’, named after the fugato passage which emerged during the composition process.

Both ooze a red blooded musical sexuality…

Modern works

In contrast, Gareth Wood’s ‘Tientos y Danzas’ contains four contrasting movements (with effective use of muted tonalities), giving all the players the chance to shine, particularly the horn in the witty ‘Waltz’.
‘Dulcinea’ and ‘Castles in Spain’ both draw inspiration from ‘Don Quixote’, the former featuring Mike Lovatt on flugel, and the latter, also influenced by the Gil Evans/Miles Davis recording ‘Sketches of Spain’, with a prominent role for the percussion, notably Frank Ricotti on marimba.

The disc ends on a vibrant, upbeat note with the Stan Kenton inspired ‘Malaguena’.


With such wonderful playing to enjoy, it’s a pity there are a few gripes regarding the presentation, with the print layout set at an almost impossible level to read comfortably, and the lack of player profiles a missed opportunity to find out more about these star performers.

That said, the notes by Joanna Wyld on the composers and the music itself are excellent, whilst the ‘mug shots’ of the players is a witty touch of humour.
These are very minor quibbles however, and listeners will be making their purchases primarily on account of the music making, which is superlative.

Superbrass more than live up to their name.

Peter Bale


1. Como Poden Per Sas Culpas
2. Tientos y Danzas/Movement 1
3. Tientos y Danzas/Movement 2
4. Tientos y Danzas/Movement 3
5. Tientos y Danzas/Movement 4
6. Dindirindin
7. Fugatango
8. Air des Espagnoles
9. Donde el Mar Saluda al Cielo
10. Homenaje a Don Luis de Victoria
11. Los Canarios
12. Juanear
13. La Perla Negra
14. Dulcinea
15. Castles of Spain
16. Malaguena

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