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8 May 2015

Before becoming a lawyer, I studied at the Royal College of Music (playing the tuba) and had the fortune to meet some amazing and very talented people.  I have managed to stay in touch with them to a greater or lesser degree (my best man was a co-founder of my Quintet, which he still runs and will be playing at our wedding), tracking through various social media.

I always like to do what little I can to support them, so when the talented composer Simon Dobson announced that he was seeking crowd-funding for a new album, I decided to put in some money and support his vision.  In case you think that this post is written with a vested financial interest, it is not, I put the money in via Sponsume and have no financial return on the project – although I obviously wish Dobbo well. 

Simon was a passionate and already successful composer before attending RCM, having grown up with a brass-banding background and won several awards before getting to Music College.  I have always enjoyed brass bands, playing for my youth bands since an early age, more interesting parts for a tuba player than falling asleep at the back of the orchestra waiting for that minute of drama at the climax (there are some decent orchestral parts for the tuba, but on a pounds per note basis it is a much better return than most other instruments), but Simon took his passion to a new level – forming his own brass band (Zone One Brass, with a number of other students at the RCM and leading them to impressive reviews, but with whom I sadly only played on a few occasions as my legal studies became more time-consuming). For talented people like Simon, Music College is really about giving him space and contacts to nurture his talents, and Simon has continued to win awards and create musical endeavours across an eclectic range of genres (including a feature film sound-track – which is the genre that got me passionate about orchestral music in the first place).

But enough gushing about Dobbo.  Last year he announced he wanted to create and launch his own full innovative and exciting debut album, to “challenge the possible perceptions that the brass band and wind band scene can be archaic and exclusive... [and] make a record that changes the way people think and feel about classical brass composition and perhaps show them a side of the playing and soundworld they might not have encountered before“.

I’m a traditionalist really, reserving modern music for the radio and work-outs rather than pleasure listening (finding “our song” for the wedding dance is going to be a painful list of me saying “what’s that one again…?”), but jumped in to back Dobbo’s talent.

He delivered in October 2014, the CD arriving in Dudley but not moving on to Cayman because I don’t have a cd player out here.  The download link sat unused, waiting for a quiet moment between a busy work schedule and an even busier social schedule.  Until now… So I thought I’d “review” Dobbo’s work… Euneirophrenia (had to look that up a few times), apparently meaning “the peaceful state of mind following a good dream“.

Nine tracks of “eclectic” music listened to fresh, from a composer who ranges from award winning symphonic works, funk and electronic to Ska (I don’t even know what that Is…).  Perhaps easing me in gently (1) Crystal is an 8 trumpet fanfare, moving into a lyrical middle section building to a grand climax.  Not sure I could convince Anna to walk down the aisle to this but a great traditional fanfare.  The next track (2) Clash, starts by continuing the brass theme with a choral brass introduction before a jazzy bassline kicks off leading into a jazzy round and some high trumpet work and a tiring tuba line that would not let you nap, would not sound out of place on a Maynard Ferguson album and could definitely enjoy a beer to this.  Wasn’t expecting the rap halfway through I see where he’s going with this eclecticism, and it sat in nicely before the conclusion.

(3) Symphony of Colours is the centrepiece of the album, the digital album sleeve not being very informative, but t’internet reveals that this was commissioned by Fairey (Geneva) Brass Band for their entry to the European Brass Band Championships and resulted in Simon’s 2012 Award as British Composer of the Year.  That set expectations high for a more “classical brass” track than Clash and I wasn’t disappointed.  This was a dramatic piece, reminiscent of the soundtrack from an 80s movie, a modern symphonic poem conveying images of the fall of a civilisation and subsequent rise and exploration of a film hero – I could almost picture Charleston Heston running amongst the talking apes or Captain Kirk exploring new worlds with the lyrical countermelodies offset by challenging solos – I would imagine it worked well as a tricky test piece showing off the range of brass instruments, with some hefty work for the percussion section.

(4) PseudoScience marks the album moving to a fusion style, an electric bass line, drums, guitars and keyboard starting a chilled out track, the setting for some jazz improvisation before picking up the beat with some brass harmony, working through some variations of a lyrical trumpet line working through saxophones and recurring as a counter-melody against some improvisation towards the end, set off against the electric bass and support.  The conclusion was a little abrupt but a good track in all.  (5) Backlash then kicked off with chiming brass developing into a relaxed, jazzy interplay for brass and drums, featuring melodies and countermelodies which have a middle Eastern influence, gets the foot tapping and builds through several sections into a satisfying climax.

(6) Collar Up came as a little surprise, a multi-part choral harmony with Simon singing the different parts himself, it was decent enough to show that Dobbo can turn his hands to different things, and I’d be interested to know if wrote the wording himself – the downloaded sleeve didn’t really give much of an explanation.  (7) Synth0ny and (8) Air continued the move away from the initial tracks, showing off the range of Simon’s instrumental diversity.  Synth0ny started as a dramatic track for synth and brass that moved into a steady synthetic section followed by a calming, ethereal Air, reminiscent of a slow sunrise with gradual tonal modulations.  A contemplative scene was set for (9) Snow, a thoughtful conclusion to the album, passing a melody through piano and trumpet and onto voice, bringing ever more instruments in to support an increasingly complex chorus.

All in all, an impressive portfolio showing the full range of Simon’s compositional muscles.  It will prove tricky for the album to satisfy a particular listening mood given the diversity in styles but Simon’s has certainly achieved his objective of showing a whole range of the soundworld and taking brass outside of the box!

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