National Youth Jazz Orchestra: She Said review – vibrant homage to female jazz composers old and new

The ensemble’s programme aimed at remixing the genre’s gender balance has resulted in an ambitious and arresting LP

Installed, finally, in a home of their own after half a century of making do, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) have the facilities to undertake efforts such as this, “a programme to remix the gender balance in jazz”, in the words of artistic director Mark Armstrong. That’s asking a lot from a single CD, but it’s a promising start. Essentially, it consists of young men and women together, playing music by female jazz composers. You don’t have to search far in the history books to find them. The oldest number here, given a modern makeover, is Struttin’ With Some Barbecue (1927) by Lil Hardin. She taught the young Louis Armstrong how to get on in the music business, becoming his second wife in the process. Along with NYJO, there are guest soloists, including Nikki Iles as both composer and guest pianist, and Norma Winstone as lyricist and guest singer. The most arresting pieces are new works by Laura Jurd, Issie Barratt, Yazz Ahmed and Iles. Each brings her own individual approach to the ensemble – tone colours, textures, rhythmic patterns. It’s a long way from the old “big band”.

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