Tim Garland's Northern Underground Orchestra - Purcell Room, Wednesday 21 Nov - London Jazz Festival

Tim Garland certainly has the skill of a true showman.  His performance with The Northern Underground Orchestra in the intimate Purcell Room was expertly choreographed from beginning to end and never lost sight of the band’s interaction with the audience.  Garland made sure that this was an accessible gig for all as he introduced the pieces, players and their respective instruments at every opportunity.  However, making the music comprehensible to any potential lay listeners in no way limited the scope of the evening’s proceedings. Tim Garland's Northern Underground Orchestra - Purcell Room, Wednesday 21 Nov - London Jazz Festival
From the breathy and intensely personal solos through to the full traditional big band sound the standard of playing never dropped.  The thirteen musicians on stage included a formally arranged brass section and a rhythm section including piano, bass, guitar and drums.  Garland took centre stage, holding the band together with his numerous saxophones and even a flute.

Although the really successful moments of the evening were achieved when the big band style took over, it seemed a shame that the less traditional rhythm side of the band wasn’t given the same space.  On the piano and keyboard, Gwilym Simcock desperately pushed the music in a looser direction, but despite an evocative rendition of his own piece ‘Chorale’, he was given few chances to really shine.  

A fantastic addition to the line up was soul singer Hannah Jones, who joined the NUO with her powerful and seemingly boundless vocals.  Jones’ interpretation of the Billie Holiday song ‘God Bless the Child’ was impressively fresh, with real emotion imbibing every word she uttered.  With technically complex solos from Andy Schofield on alto sax, and of course from Garland on a whole variety of instruments, every note played tonight was the epitome of professionalism, but it wouldn’t have hurt to let the formal structure slip just a bit.

Catherine Marks