Vortex Foundation Big Band
John Fordham, Friday September 19, 2003, The Guardian
You often find musicians trying, in myriad small ways, to change the world at the Vortex. But these highly skilled players are always fully committed to having a ball doing it. This combination of good causes and good fun, in the club's liberal-bohemian ambiance, is what makes the place special. On this occasion, the 11-piece, all-female Foundation Big Band was launching the Vortex's latest campaign: to raise £250,000 to fit out its new premises in east London.
Since it came to life during the London jazz festival last year, the Foundation Band has grown from tentative beginnings into a charismatic bravura. The band has been touring lately, and the members' growing mutual sensitivity to one another'sstrengths and idiosyncrasies was evident from this show. Though there were plenty of punchy solos - notably from the notional musical director, trombonist Annie Whitehead - the variety and richness of the compositions provided the biggest surprises. On this showing, the band is building a distinctive repertoire of its own, with connections to quite unexpected big-band jazz landmarks such as Oliver Nelson's glossy sophistication and Don Ellis's leftfield funk.
This liberation wasn't apparent, at first, from Kim Burton's tautly interlocking but faintly static Latin opener Pigeon Post. But Diane McLoughlin's New Day was an ebullient tussle of glowing melody lines, with Andrea Vicari injecting a vivid postbop piano solo over Josefina Cupido's snare-drum crackle. The pianist then added understated, Bill Evans-like chording under McLoughlin's soaring alto solo, which vibrated with echoes of the late Cannonball Adderley.
Carol Grimes's restrained power and Whitehead's warm lyricism intertwined on the ethereal Now the Hour, with Grimes boldly veering into a kind of north African-inflected scat at the close. The eccentric Don Ellis element came from baritonist Izzy Barrett's Showtime, with its trombone solo of exuberant percussiveness from Gail Brand and a vivid, bluesy guitar break from Deirdre Cartwright. Much more than a right-on gesture, this is a new British big band with a future.