ROGER MARKS' BRASS FARTHINGS featuring Pete Allen - Higher Ground
This album is the latest from respected trombonist, Roger Marks. He has teamed up with Pete Allen and both their date sheets are really full. Both are active bandleaders in their own right and play both in the UK and Europe on a regular basis. This is the third album of Roger Marks on the Upbeat Jazz label following the critical acclaim of the first two - URCD270 - ROGER MARKS IN RETROSPECT and URCD278 - MARKS AND SPARKS
Barry Clare wrote in Just Jazz Magazine: Roger Marks, one of our foremost jazz musicians….an example of all that is good about British Jazz….
Roger Marks, trombone - Pete Allen, clarinet - Pete Sumner, banjo - Dave Holdsworth, Sousaphone
1. Lady of Spain
2. It Happened in Monterey
3. Maori Farewell
4. C'est Si Bon
5. An Ordinary Copper
6. Star of the County Down
7. Trouble in Mind
8. Higher Ground
9. Answer Me
10. Faithful Hussar
11. Old Rugged Cross
12. Jules' Rag
13. Kentucky Home
14. Streets of the City
15. La Vie En Rose
16. White Cliffs of Dover
Reviews of This Recording
Trombonist Roger Marks has been a fixture in the British trad/swing scene since at least the late 1970s when he worked with cornetist Rod Mason’s hot band. He began leading his own albums in the late 1980s. While he recorded a duet album with pianist Craig Milverton in the 1990s and made three albums with his Mainstreamers (a trumpetless quintet), most of his recordings have had a fairly conventional instrumentation.
Higher Ground is a bit different for it features Marks as part of a quartet that does not include trumpet, piano or drums. He teams up with clarinetist Pete Allen, banjoist Pete Sumner, and Dave Holdsworth on sousaphone, an unusual group of instrumentalists that manages to sound very much like a full band. Marks and Allen blend together well, Sumner and Holdsworth are so steady that one does not miss the other instruments, and this is a group that can often get quite heated.
Among the more off-beat songs that the band swings are 'Lady Of Spain' (fortunately no accordion is in sight), 'Maori Farewell', 'Star Of The Country Down,' and 'Faithful Hussar' (played by Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and given lyrics by Sumner).' Some of the other more memorable performances include 'My Old Kentucky Home', 'Streets Of The City' (which has Allen switching to baritone and Holdsworth heard on trumpet), and 'White Cliffs Of Dover'. It all works quite well with each of the musicians displaying flexibility, an individual musical personality, and the ability to build up solos and ensembles. The Brass Farthings are well worth discovering.
Higher Ground (Upbeat URCD 290, 16 selections, TT = 59:34)
Marks presents the music with enthusiasm and no little skill. Widely praised as an instrumentalist, Marks is content to share the spotlight with Allen on clarinet and baritone sax.......There is more than sufficient jazz here to appeal to the confirmed fan! Russell Corbett - The Jazz Rag
Experienced and versatile, Roger seems equally at home in either a traditional or mainstream setting. These quartet recordings, somewhat akin to a small New Orleans street band in instrumentation, are in established British traditional style.
The approach is lively and entertaining, with interesting and unhackneyed touches in the simple but effective arrangements. New Orleans popular standards rub shoulders with some very unexpected tunes, reflecting Roger’s refreshingly eclectic approach to repertoire: It Happened In Monterey, Star Of The County Down, (punctuated with hand-clap breaks) and La Vie En Rose are hardly traditional jazz standards.
Pete Allen’s solo feature revives the pleasantly strolling An Ordinary Copper (theme tune for the old TV series Dixon Of Dock Green). In an equally diverting wander off the beaten track, Roger effectively dusts off the old tear-jerker Answer Me.
There’s no trumpet (apart from a useful contribution in Streets Of The City from sousa player Dave Holdsworth) nor is one missed, given Roger’s confident, fluent and melodic lead.
Pete Allen’s energetic and full-toned clarinet gives spirited and ideally matched accompaniment. With no piano or drums, the banjo and sousa bond well to lay down trusty support. Pete Sumner picks his way adroitly through his original Jules Rag in a deserved solo feature.
The session was completed in five hours, and obvio/usly enjoyed by the musicians, with comfortable rapport and positive colourful solos from the front horns. Unpretentious, happy listening from seasoned practitioners.Hugh Rainey - Jazz Journal May 2019
Roger Marks and Pete Allen continue to turn out fine music. They don't stand still and you could almost pick any of their albums and always find a different approach, choice of instrumentation or scope of their eras every time. They clearly work at staying fresh and, in that, they never disappoint. This is an enjoyable CD. Barry Clare -Just Jazz April 2019
This small group album provides some first-rate traditional jazz. The program—perhaps one of the first things we look at when appraising a CD—shows only a few titles that are fairly often seen on jazz CDs—Trouble in Mind, Higher Ground, Old Rugged Cross, My Old Kentucky Home, and Streets of the City, perhaps. Others have appeared on occasion elsewhere to be given a jazz treatment—C’est Si Bon, Faithful Hussar, La Vie en Rose by Mr. Armstrong, for instance, or White Cliffs of Dover by British bands such as those of Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, et al. I do not recall any jazz groups taking up the remainder: Jules Rag, an original by Pete Sumner An Ordinary Copper, which I have not heard before, the theme song of an early BBC TV series It Happened in Monterey, a ballad from the movie King of Jazz that featured Paul Whiteman and his band and perhaps more associated with big swing bands Star of the County Down, an Irish reel given a jaunty treatment, complete with hand-clapping fills Answer Me, a ballad connected to the likes of Frankie Laine and Nat King Cole. So right out of the gate almost half of the tunes sparked my interest before I even put on the earphones.
Next comes the challenge of how well the quartet maintains the listener’s attention since there is only about half of the usual complement (seven or eight musicians) that provides the customary line-up of ensembles and solos. This combo does not fall short in this regard, providing a wealth of arrangements and textures that forestall any monotony. To cite just a few of these, the group does not follow the same pattern from track to track of ensemble, solos (usually in the same order), and ensemble out. Thus we find An Ordinary Copper commences with clarinet lead and maintains that until the end, there being no other solos. Or Higher Ground opens with a trombone and clarinet duet, trombone leading and clarinet playing counterpoint with no rhythm backing then they are joined by sousaphone for a chorus and then banjo to complete the ensemble. Or Jules’ Rag begins with banjo and sousaphone and continues that duet for the entire track. So there is considerable variety here.
Solos within each track do not always follow the same order—sometimes the trombone takes the first, other times the clarinet. And both Marks and Allen are masters of their instruments, not only in terms of technique but also in the quality of the tone each achieves on his instrument, the trombone being warm and full, the clarinet having no sharp edges or screeches. And it goes without saying that both produce a wealth of ideas as we might expect, given their experience.
In addition to all of that, other factors contribute to the excellence of the rendition of each tune. Lady of Spain maintains the rhythm of the tango throughout, where other bands might have resorted to straight fours. Maori Farewell (perhaps better known as Now Is the Hour), usually played in waltz time, is here taken in four from the outset until the coda. Jules’ Rag has an unexpected, but interesting, half time four-bar phrase on the banjo in the middle. And several tracks end with a four or eight bar turnaround.
All of this adds up to a very entertaining and enjoyable listening experience. This disc would be welcome on any jazz lover’s shelf.