Mike Westbrook

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Reviews of Mike Westbrook


27/03/2006 Alyn Shipton - The Times

Review of ART WOLF at St Cyprian's London 22/03/2006
It's a fair certainty that Oil and Pencil on Cardboard ranks as one of the more unusual titles for a new jazz composition. It is also a pretty unusual piece, with the saxophones of Pete Whyman and Chris Biscoe scurrying across their range, snarling, screaming and swirling, with moments of lyrical calm thrown in. In celebration of his 70th birthday in the stone and gold splendour of St Cyprian's, the piece proved that Mike Westbrook is still one of Britain 's most creative, experimental and daring jazz composers.

His suite Art Wolf is a setting of lyrics by his wife Kate that celebrates the work of the Swiss painter Caspar Wolf, an 18th-century landscape artist whose depictions of the rugged alpine landscape were dramatically rendered into chippy, rocky musical structures.

The composer's spartan piano conjured up the vastness of the chill mountain scenery in the opening to Pale Parasol, a reminder of Wolf's practice of including everyday objects in his pictures to create a sense of scale. Meanwhile Kate Westbrook's declamatory style, slipping from song to speech and from crisp English to German, teased out the metaphor of an artist whose very signature was a wolf, scratching a living from the inhospitable landscape.

Too much of this would be hard going, but Westbrook has learnt a trick or two in his long career, and the musical diet was leavened with some simply breathtaking soprano saxophone solos by Pete Whyman.

Sinuous and sinister, his sparkling sound made the most of the glorious acoustic of the church and between some dazzling torrents of notes added a romantic lyricism. Most Westbrook concerts also have an inbuilt sense of fun, and although we had to wait for the second half for his congeniality and good humour to emerge properly, his four-piece brass band swaggered its way through Oil Paint on Canvas. This had all the lilt and lift of his best big-band writing, the composer's bass horn setting up an ostinato against which the saxophones and Kate's baritone horn swaggered and swung. This joyous feeling returned in the encore, a Martinique song whose Caribbean warmth sent us happily out into the alpine cold of a London evening.


01/01/2001 The Rough Guide To Jazz

Everything about Westbrook is is on a massive scale: the number and variety of groups he has formed, the innumerable projects, his prolific output as a composer, the broad scope and long duration of his various works. Over the years he has developed a great mastery of orchestration and can handle everything from solo instrument to chamber group and very large ensemble. One of his greatest achievements is to have given jazz wider terms of cultural reference (relating it to poetry, theatre, the visual arts and the European classical music tradition) without in any way diminishing its own identity or vitality.


01/01/2000 The Wire

Britain's most innovative Big Band leader.


01/01/2000 The Times

As his career amply demonstrates, - he has produced a body of work embracing everything from opera through settings of Kate Westbrook's song cycles, to jazz suites and cabaret, - he is luckily for all lovers of innovative and original music, thoroughly committed to maintaining his reputation as the UK's foremost jazz composer.


01/12/1992 The Independent

Westbrook is among the most serious composers in any field at present. Few contemporary classical composers have covered so much ground, or worked in as many forms as Westbrook, a self taught musician. Measure For Measure shows how far from what is conventionally regarded as jazz the Westbrooks can go. A collage of verse from the Shakespeare play, whose music comments wittily on Viennese School aesthetics, Measure For Measure is seriously 'serious'. It remains, however, like all Mike Westbrook's work, rooted in jazz.


01/12/1987 The Times

With this immensely powerful work (London Bridge is Broken Down) Westbrook reinstates his claim to international pre-eminence among the heirs of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.


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