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The Orpheus Suite
An introduction to Ellington
David Bintley discusses the appeal of the jazz legend
Read about the legend of Orpheus
Read reviews of previous performances
Journalist Duncan Heining talks to the big band leader and composer of The Orpheus Suite
David Bintley on the attraction of jazz
The creator of Take Five talks about his love of jazz
See shots from the Company studios
An overview of the ballet
Read quotes from reviews of previous performances
Meet the characters portrayed in the ballet
Geoffrey Smith looks at Duke Ellington's relationship with dance
Colin Towns (part two)
Having seen the performance in 2004, what David and Colin have achieved is something quite beautiful. At times scary, at times sexy and always provocative, this was a marriage made in the underworld, if not in heaven. Obviously, working with dancers restricts the extent his musicians can improvise. So, how does Colin deal with that dilemma as a composer and arranger? It's a difficulty that both Colin and David were alive to, as he tells me,
'For a start, I've worked very closely with David and we have cut the solos down at times. But when one of the band is soloing, David can still guide the dancers by hanging on to what's going on behind the solo. There was one piece from Orpheus that had this kind of late period Miles' thing I was trying to get in. David wasn't sure it would work but he got right inside it and gave it this fantastic dance setting. It has to be inspiring on both sides. If it works the dancers will really get a lot from it and the story will be told more effectively.'
It's not just the challenge of working in new areas that made Colin want to work with the company. It's the chance to take Jazz out of its usual community and to a new audience that may be experiencing it for the first time, as he notes, 'Dance attracts people from three or four upwards. To me and the band, it's important to get as many people to hear this Jazz triple bill as possible because they'll hear music they don't normally hear - whether it's historical like the Brubeck or Ellington or more contemporary like The Orpheus Suite.'
It was while playing and recording with rock band Gillan in the early 80's – and providing much of their material – that Colin taught himself to write and arrange music. Since then writing for film and TV has provided an entry into different areas of music and when in the 90's Colin began thinking of writing for a jazz orchestra, he approached his old friend, Alan Skidmore. 'I played him some of the pieces and his response was that we had to get the right players because this was really difficult stuff,' Colin recalls. 'It was through Skid that I worked out who to approach.' Simple in his choice of some of the UK's best musicians to play his music – people like trumpeters Guy Barker and Henry Lowther, saxophone stylists such as Alan Skidmore, Peter King and Julian Siegel. The Mask Orchestra have released 6 albums to date including 2004's The Orpheus Suite.
So, do yourself a favour and catch this show, if you can. Trust me – you certainly will not be disappointed.
This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of The Jazz Rag, reprinted here with the kind permission of all involved.
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