For its penultimate project of 2018 the SNJO turned the focus on the art of arrangement with one of the orchestra’s most frequent collaborators, Florian Ross.
The Cologne-based pianist and composer’s assignments have included re-orchestrating the great Scottish tenor saxophonist, Bobby Wellins’ previously neglected Culloden Moor Suite, the haunting epilogue of which featured here, and one of his particular talents lies in finding new angles from which to view familiar pieces.
Thus John Coltrane’s Giant Steps became less of the test piece for saxophonists to show their skill in negotiating its ferociously intricate contours in its popular guise, although SNJO director Tommy Smith, as the evening’s main featured soloist demonstrated skills aplenty, and was transformed into something more benign and considered with rich orchestral colour.
Ross likes to incorporate other pieces into the work at hand – Charlie Parker’s Constellation was woven beautifully into another Parker favourite, Yardbird Suite, and I thought I detected elements of Cheek to Cheek in Giant Steps – and his own compositions such as Ramblin’ can gather quite different styles into a unified structure.
He used the orchestra well but then he did have at his disposal an ensemble that combines into one big instrument. The section work, where lines were passed from saxophones, sometimes bolstered by both baritone and tuba, to trumpets and trombones was typically superb and the broad variety of moods, as exemplified by West Side Story ranging from street wisdom to lush romance, was articulated with mastery.
Outstanding individual playing came from drummer Alyn Cosker and Martin Kershaw, capturing Wayne Shorter’s soprano personality on Nefertiti, but this was essentially a team success.
4* Review by Rob Adams for the Herald. 10th Sept 2018