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Nikki Iles/Roger Garfitt: In All My Holy Mountain review – powerful poetry laced with jazz

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(Restringing the Lyre)


When the Ellingtonian composer/pianist Michael Garrick was driving a vibrant poetry-and-jazz movement in Britain in the 1960s, it wasn’t unusual to hear writers of the class of Ted Hughes and Laurie Lee declaiming in front of his bands. The phenomenon is a rarity now, but is revisited by another fine British composer/pianist here – Nikki Iles, with an elegant horn-packed octet led by bandleader John Williams (who commissioned this six-part suite), and the English poet Roger Garfitt, evoking the life of Shropshire novelist Mary Webb. Iles’s Westerly, a graceful staple of her repertoire (her talent for mingling jazz materials and traditional English music being one of her signature strengths) glides around Garfitt’s airy reflections on the hues of the Shropshire landscape. The Wedding Breakfast is lovely elegiac brass theme preceding the poet’s animated evocation of pre-welfare-state parish life. The Haunting – a reflection on Webb’s first world war novel Gone to Earth – is introduced by savage bass clarinet smears and a quote from Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. Poetry declaiming with jazz embroidery isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this is an imaginative and illuminating addition to the genre.

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