We can only be grateful that Nikki has the courage and commitment to keep producing such fine works as this, and British labels like Edition have the foresight to release them.

Edition EDN 1231

Nikki Iles – conductor

Music composed and arranged by Nikki Iles
Recorded at NDR Studio 1, Hamburg, 06. – 10.12.2021 & 21. – 22.12.2022

NDR Bigband 06. – 10.12.2021:
Trumpets: Thorsten Benkenstein, Nic Boysen, Claus Stötter, Percy Pursglove
Saxophones: Fiete Felsch – Alto, Anna-Lena Schnabel – Alto, Julius Gawlik – Tenor (06.-08.12.), Konstantin Herleinsberger – Tenor (09.+10.12.), Frank Delle – Tenor
Luigi Grasso – Baritone
Flutes: Gareth Lockrane – Additional Flute and Alto flute
Trombones: Dan Gottshall (06.-08.12.), Erik Konertz (09.+10.12.), Klaus Heidenreich, Stefan Lottermann, Ingo Lahme – Bass Trombone
Rhythm Section: Mike Walker – Guitar, Ingmar Heller – Bass, Florian Weber – Piano, Ian Thomas – Drums, Marcio Doctor – Percussion

NDR Bigband 21. – 22.12.2022:
Trumpets: Chris Mehler, Ingolf Burkhardt, Claus Stötter, Christian Höhn
Saxophones: Fiete Felsch – Alto, Peter Bolte – Alto, Julius Gawlik – Tenor, Nigel Hitchcock – Tenor, Tini Thomsen – Baritone
Flutes: Gareth Lockrane – Additional Flute and Alto flute
Trombones: Dan Gottshall, Klaus Heidenreich, Lisa Stick, Ingo Lahme – Bass Trombone
Rhythm Section: Mike Walker – Guitar (21.12.), Ingmar Heller – Bass, Florian Weber – Piano,
Ian Thomas – Drums (21.12.), Marcio Doctor – Percussion, Nikki Iles – Accordion

Anyone wanting to know about the current state of big band jazz need look no further than this excellent album from Nikki Iles and Hamburg’s NDR Big Band. They have it all, power, grace, drive, swing, some fantastic soloists and the icing on the cake is eight original compositions and arrangements from Nikki for the band to get stuck into.

In a wonderfully varied set, Nikki’s elegant compositions are given their due, and are impeccably played by the big band. The charts are rich in detail, and care is taken that this is not lost in the recording. It doesn’t matter how many times that I’ve listened to the album there is always something I’ve not heard before, a little surprise around each corner if you will.

‘Misfits’ kicks things off and is a powerful opening number with a suitably declamatory solo from tenor saxophonist Julius Gawlik, while the following piece ‘Red Ellen’ is inspired by the socialist MP Ellen Wilkinson, who famously walked with the Jarrow marchers over 300 miles to London featuring Percy Pursglove on trumpet and guitarist Mike Walker as the soloists. The piece has a wonderful groove with a slow burn to it, and Walker sets up a lovely riff in the introduction to the composition.

Handing over pianist duties to Florian Weber while she conducts the band was a shrewd move to say the least, and Weber acknowledges this with a couple of exceptional solos on ‘Wild Oak’ dedicated to another pianist, the late great Geri Allen that also features alto saxophonist Fiete Felsch, and Weber also shows his mastery on the title track that was originally written for trumpeter Henry Lowther and that features a fine performance from Claus Stötter on flugelhorn.

Nikki’s ability to hear and conjure up inspiring arrangements from smaller beginnings can be heard on ‘Hush’ originally a piece for trio, and magnificently reworked in a lush orchestration for the big band, and her knack for finding the perfect soloist for each composition is right on the money.

And talking of the right soloist, just listen to guitarist Mike Walker’s contributions throughout the album. Of the eight compositions Walker solos on four and makes each one count. Hi solo on the aforementioned ‘Hush’ is a model of power and precision, yet there is an overriding sense that he is holding back as to not overwhelm the music.

This perfect control and self-editing are precious gifts for an improvising musician and Walker has this in spades. Each and every one of his solos is a gem and once you have assimilated them, go back and listen to his comping which is also a delight and lifts the band significantly.

It says much for the state of the arts in the UK that that after being awarded an BEM for services to music that Nikki has to seek much of her work away from these shores, and in order to get this wonderful music performed that she has had to enlist the services of the NDR Big Band in Germany. We can only be grateful that Nikki has the courage and commitment to keep producing such fine works as this, and British labels like Edition have the foresight to release them.