Colin Towns Mask Orchestra review – action-packed jazz with gong-booming energy (via The Guardian)

Colin Towns straddles the worlds of gifted jazz artist and successful film, TV and theatre composer. His jazz talents and a raft of vivid theatre music (much of it written for the former RSC and Theatr Clwyd director Terry Hands) honed over the past two decades have recently come together on a fine album and a short run of UK gigs. The power of that fusion in live performance deserved a bigger platform than Towns has been able to give it this month – a platform such as next month’s EFG London jazz festival, for instance, when the ballyhoo might have shown a bigger crowd what a treasure to European jazz he is. But, by the end, the half-full house for the last of three UK gigs launching his Drama album generated enough noise for a sellout. The new album integrates standalone composed music (for Shakespeare, Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill and many more) and jazz improvisations with a rare subtlety. The gig threw in a wild, precariously cliffhanging spontaneous energy for good measure.

Towns’ music is packed with action, like plays that have been condensed from larger wholes. His music for The Cherry Orchard mixed dizzying dances, richly sombre harmonies, racing swing and mournful John Coltrane-like tenor saxophone passages. On Macbeth, unnerving brass fanfares barged across fragile traceries of taped strings, desolate soprano saxophone lines wandered across windswept spaces, and rugged, stalking passages recalled the 1970s fusion music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Bitches Brew. Ibsen’s Ghosts was evoked in soft woodwind tones, slinky guitar hooks and staccato trumpet edicts, and Terry Johnson’s Hysteria pulled tenor saxists Alan Skidmore, Mark Lockheart and Julian Siegel into a churning, free-jazz fracas.

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