The Human Revolution Orchestra lift spirits at Union Chapel

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The fourth UNESCO International Jazz Day saw a meeting of incandescent spirits at the Union Chapel in Islington, London, where the stellar talents of The Human Revolution Orchestra performed with special guest trombonist Robin Eubanks. This was the third outing for the Orchestra and their Ode To The Human Spirit, hosted by the socially engaged Buddhist movement SGI-UK. According to Sean Corby, the Orchestra’s founder, the collective “seeks ways by which we can demonstrate the power of music in the transformation of our communities and ourselves.”

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The “power of music” was certainly present in the Union Chapel as British tenor magician Denys Baptiste set the bar high for all subsequent solos, blowing up a storm over the opening piece, ‘Divine Revelation’. Exploring the full range of the tenor, he layered complex, harmonically suggestive lines over a tight straight-eight groove. His solo wound down with a trill, fading into the wall of massive horn backings that emanated from this joyous 22-piece Orchestra. It’s just a shame that one had to strain to hear the soloists, in the process missing many subtle nuances of such a rare line-up. The natural acoustics of such a cavernous hall make it very hard to achieve a balanced sound, and last night was unfortunately no exception; in spite of US drummer Rod Youngs’ subtle style, he ended up overpowering the group in places.

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However, if the sound wasn’t balanced, the set list certainly was. A varied mix of originals and fresh arrangements kept energy levels high and showcased the individual compositional talents of the Orchestra. Eubanks kicked off the second half with an impromptu duet with vocal sculptor/beatboxer Jason Singh. Utilising a full range of effects pedals, the trombonist exhibited his phenomenal technique and unique musical vision from the get-go. Over a looped trombone riff, Singh throws down the gauntlet with sophisticated humourous responses to Eubanks’ lines, followed by hip-hop and drum & bass beats cleverly adapted to rhythmically coincide with the underlying loop. Later, Eubanks has a chance to stretch out over pianist Simon Purcell’s up-tempo swing number ‘Nabatar’, which works as an excellent solo vehicle owing to its spaciousness and sparse backings.

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The standout original was up and coming trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s ‘Al Emadi’, characterised by a dramatic middle-eastern tinge with fluid harmonic minor themes. This also came across as the most coherent piece, exhibiting a memorable solo from Ahmed and some beautiful horn textures in the outro. Other highlights include the consistently engaging Jason Yarde (above) who conducted and played on his intensely driving tune ‘Tall Call’; some potent solos from altoist Christian Brewer tenor Nadim Teimoori and trumpeter Byron Wallen.

Ode To The Human Spirit emphasises a positive philosophical goal of togetherness with a melting pot of distinctive individual voices to execute it, and one might wonder whether a musical project of this size could possibly work. There were some disappointments, especially in terms of sound balance and general tightness of the band, but these are to be expected from such a monster gig, which probably had scant rehearsal time. Overall, The Human Revolution Orchestra presented a deeply thoughtful and exciting concert, and as Sean Corby aptly put it, demonstrated “optimism in the face of adversity”.

– Marlowe Heywood-Thornes

– Photos by Roger Thomas