National Youth Jazz Orchestra: She Said


The purpose of this album is above all to highlight the importance of women in jazz – as composers, musicians and role models for the genre. The result of a year of preparation, it is a mix of old tunes and five newly commissioned pieces, composed and arranged by Nikki Iles, Laura Jurd, Josephine Davies, Yazz Ahmed and Issie Barratt respectively.

Nikki Iles’ majestic Wild Oak kicks things off, with the pianist contributing a flowing solo. While beginning in “Hot Five” pastiche mode, Lil Hardin’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue quickly evolves into Ellingtonian swing. Jimmy Rowles’ ballad A Timeless Place receives exquisite reading from Norma Winstone and Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me is processed in a rich and imaginative arrangement with sumptuous vocals from Helena Debono.

Dinosaur trumpeter Laura Jurd (an alumnus of NYJO) contributes The Earth Keeps Spinning, a typically complex yet engaging composition. Transition, by Josephine Davies (by another NYJO alumnus), is a timely reminder of the impressive quality of her work for larger ensembles. Here she is invited to tenor.

The haunting, Middle Eastern-influenced Nurrquss by trumpeter Yazz Ahmed features guest soloists Shirley Smart on cello, Iles on piano, and Ahmed on flugelhorn and electronics. The penultimate track, the exuberant You Do?! by Issie Barratt, is followed by God Bless The Child by Billie Holiday, with Freddie Benedict giving a heartfelt rendition.

As Clare Teal aptly puts it in her brief introductory note: “The history of jazz is rich in talented women. . . but sadly, these wonderful musicians never enjoyed the same level of success or recognition as many of their male counterparts.

Let’s hope that this excellent album will help redress this imbalance. NYJO, under the musical direction of Mark Armstrong, excels in this 80-minute excursion, reminding the listener just how magnificent this longtime big band really is. Indeed, it is a essential British institution.

wild oak; Strut with a barbecue; A place out of time; Willow cries for me; The Earth continues to turn; Call me back; Transition; Nurrquss; Heavenly; You do?!; God bless the child (79.45)
National Youth Jazz Orchestra, with Mark Armstrong (cond, arr), plus guests Norma Winstone (v); Georgina Jackson

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Henry R. Wright