Percy Pursglove – Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls at CBSO Centre, Birmingham


Taking his texts from the diary of Anne Frank, interviews with Nelson Mandela and Charles Darwin, speeches from Aung San Suu Kyi and Malala Yousafzai, and suchlike sources, and then turning them into coherent vocal music was going to be a challenge for trumpeter Percy Pursglove, but these texts were the inspiration and the heart of this jazz suite.

While some of it flowed more easily, it was all strongly conveyed by the eight-strong choir. The vocal music ranged from incantation to lyrical song, much of it rich with the harmony that I associate with 20th-century English church music.

The band was no conventional jazz ensemble. It comprised Pursglove on trumpet, Julian Argüelles on tenor and soprano saxophones, Melinda Maxwell on oboe and cor anglais, James Allsopp on bass clarinet, Jim Rattigan on French horn and accordion, Helen Tunstall on harp, Hans Koller on piano, Michael Janisch on double bass and Paul Clarvis on percussion.

The composition fully exploited this wide range of timbre and texture, setting harp against accordion, or cor anglais with bass clarinet, or trumpet under voices. There were solo spaces – the lion's share going to Argüelles whose characteristic rich, rising tenor figures fitted just perfectly at the centre of the ensemble – but mainly this was about interactive, group playing. And yet it never felt over-written – it never felt unlike jazz.

The full integration of choir with band, both as a section and as soloists, was one of the richest rewards of the evening.Compelling moments included Pursglove doing an extraordinary circular-breathing sound full of breath and bubbles and white noise underneath a massed vocal line; the whole group making a rainstorm of finger clicks and claps; and the brief Central American sound of full, fruity trumpet against accordion.

Somehow Percy Pursglove created a completely whole musical world all of his own. That is a rare achievement.

– Peter Bacon