National Youth Jazz Orchestra: She Said

NYJO focuses on female jazz writers, arrangers and performers, among them Norma Winstone, Issie Barratt, Nikki Iles and Yazz Ahmed


The object of this album is primarily to highlight the importance of women in jazz – as composers, musicians and as role models for the genre. The result of a year’s preparation, it’s a mixture of old tunes and five newly commissioned pieces, composed and arranged respectively by Nikki Iles, Laura Jurd, Josephine Davies, Yazz Ahmed and Issie Barratt.

Nikki Iles’ majestic Wild Oak kicks off proceedings, with the pianist contributing a flowing solo. Whilst starting out in pastiche “Hot Five” mode, Lil Hardin’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue quickly develops into Ellingtonian swing. Jimmy Rowles’ ballad A Timeless Place is given an exquisite reading by Norma Winstone and Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep For Me is treated to a rich, imaginative arrangement with sumptuous vocals by Helena Debono.

Dinosaur trumpeter Laura Jurd (a NYJO alumna) contributes The Earth Keeps Spinning, a typically complex yet engaging composition. Transition, by Josephine Davies (by another NYJO alumna), is a timely reminder of how impressive her works for larger ensembles are. Here she guests on tenor.

The mesmeric Middle-East-influenced Nurrquss, by trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, features guest soloists Shirley Smart on cello, Iles on piano and Ahmed on flugelhorn and electronics. The penultimate track, Issie Barratt’s exuberant You Do?!, is followed by Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child, with Freddie Benedict giving a heartfelt rendition.

As Clare Teal rightly says in her brief introductory note: “The history of jazz is rich in talented women . . . but sadly these wonderful musicians never enjoyed the same level of success or recognition as many of their male counterparts.”

Hopefully, this really excellent album will contribute towards redressing this imbalance. NYJO, under the musical direction of Mark Armstrong, excels in this 80-minute excursion, reminding the listener of just how truly magnificent this longstanding big band is. Indeed, it’s an essential British institution.

Wild Oak; Struttin’ With Some Barbecue; A Timeless Place; Willow Weep For Me; The Earth Keeps Spinning; Remind Me; Transition; Nurrquss; Celeste; You Do?!; God Bless the Child (79.45)
National Youth Jazz Orchestra, featuring Mark Armstrong (cond, arr), plus guests Norma Winstone (v); Georgina Jackson (t); Josephine Davies (ts, arr); Shirley Smart (clo); Issie Barratt, Nikki Iles (p, arr); Yazz Ahmed (flh, elec, arr). London, September 2019.