University of Texas, Austin
By Mark Good
The Bandsman magazine
21st February 2020
Fridays at One - Wonder Women
Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland February 7th, 2020.
"Trombone quartet Bones Apart enjoys a stellar reputation for producing chamber music of the very highest standard. A real coup, then, for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to showcase the ensemble in its prestigious Fridays at One slot.
The all-female group had been working with students of RCS’s brass department over the preceding days before taking centre stage in a concert celebrating female composers, songwriters and trailblazers.
The ensemble was dispersed to corners of the Stevenson Hall for O quam mirabilis est, a beautiful lyricism evident from the outset. The Suite from Bonduca (Boudicca) showcased a delightful poise, each player so evenly matched in every last detail, from articulation to note length and balance.
Several of the arrangements had been prepared by members of the ensemble. The Suite from Sant Alessio was adapted by Becky Smith, who soared into the higher register with apparent ease as the music fizzed along, the nimble, cascading lines graceful at every turn. Sarah Williams, on bass trombone, found real clarity, even while descending into the lower reaches of the register.
D’un jardin clair and Les lilas sont en folie, by sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, saw fleeting musical ideas floating in and out of the texture in an almost whimsical fashion.
Addressing the audience in Stevenson Hall, Jayne Murrill acknowledged the difficulties they encountered when searching for a trombone quartet from the pen of a female composer. Saskia Apon’s First Trombone Quartet was a work which began with dark, brooding melodic lines before giving way to swirling rhythmic textures in the second movement. The attention to detail was admirable and the leading lines always found their way to the forefront of the balance.
In the latter stages of this one-hour concert, Bones Apart took a light-hearted turn. Nina Simone’s Sinnerman featured arranger Helen Vollam display a delightfully lyrical quality in this spirited adaptation.
Both Sides Now saw the melody shared around the group in an innately musical reading, the remaining members providing a sympathetic accompaniment. Blues Melba took on a relaxed swing, underpinned by Sarah Williams’ fruity bass trombone sound, before two numbers from Calamity Jane, Windy City and Secret Love, captured the jollity and heart-rending tenderness brought to the big screen by Doris Day in the 1953 western.
This was a concert showcasing female musical trailblazers. In Bones Apart, the music was brought to the stage by a (female) chamber group at the peak of its powers in a performance of elegance, subtlety and considerable variety in tonal colour."
By Toby D'Jong
"What a wonderful evening! The trombone quartet Bones Apart, Jayne Murrill, Becky Smith, Helen Vollam and Sarah Williams, just get better and better. Individually they are all players at the top of their profession, their skill, dexterity and musicianship is quite stunning. Combined they are spectacular ambassadors for the trombone!
Arrangements were surprising, clever, artistic, amusing and fun, varying the texture of sound infinitely, so easy to forget there were only four players! Many of the arrangements were by members of the ensemble (special credit to Helen), with others on this occasion by Mark Nightingale, Colin Skinner, Alwyn Green, Lorna McDonald and Simon Wills; some really varied and inspiring works.
Pieces were by turns, regal, majestic, sensual, gorgeous, jazzy and witty, and always played with style and huge panache and polish. I particularly liked La Boda de Luis Alonso by Gimenez and La Cumparsita, but all were well received by a packed audience. We were introduced to music building towards a "Wonder Women" programme, and a new name to me Melba Liston. I look forward to another CD perhaps?
With most enjoyable contributions from the performers who took part in the afternoon workshops with the quartet, and the Cheddar Valley Music Club Brass Band under the direction of the amazing and indomitable Anne Higgs this was a great evening of brass playing! Encore!"
"Well ladies and gentlemen I told you to be there!
Bones Apart the amazing Trombone Quartet, Becky Smith, Jayne Murrill, Helen Vollam and Sarah Williams, provided another spellbinding evening in Cheddar last week. They are an outstanding ensemble, versatile, ingenious, exciting and dynamic. Many of the arrangements are by members of the ensemble, some of the best arrangements for small group I have heard. The evening also provided a show case for some young players and local talent. Never miss the opportunity to hear this inventive and exciting group!"
By Jude Owens
"Internationally acclaimed trombone quartet Bones Apart certainly played for their supper with panache on a return visit to Cheddar last week.
During the day, Bones Apart - Jayne Murrill, Becky Smith, Helen Vollam and Sarah Williams - led demos and brass workshops with student musicians, before performing in the evening with other talented professionals, young protégées and community brass players. Although they had only rehearsed together for a few hours, or perhaps because of it, there was an air of anticipation throughout the evening as Bones Apart opened with Monteverdi's jaunty, yet somehow formal duo of Chiome d'Oro and Damigella Tutta Bella.
The musicians then moved across the border into France with two pieces by composer sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger - D'un Jardin Clair, perfect for strolling in a garden on a summer's evening and Chanson which was like a garden awakening to sparkling sunshine.
The students opened their performance with Amazing Grace with its beautiful and heartening harmonies and followed it with something very different, Brazil and its foot-tapping fun. The fast tempo continued with Cheddar Valley Music Club Brass Band's Pedal Pusher, it was brass at its best. Followed by an even brassier version of I've Got Rhythm.
Back to Bones Apart and a Catalan folk song, Son of Mary which was gentle and nurturing. In contrast, the Intermedio from La Boda de Luis Alonso by Geronimo Gimenez was vigorous. Clever playing that was fast-paced with lots of puff and page-turning; yet made trombone-ing appear artfully too easy.
In the second half, as part of Bones Apart's 'Wonder Women' programme, a tango. A spirit of danger on the dance floor. Full of promise and expectation, La Cumparsita was utterly fabulous. A world premiere in Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell was wistful and emotional. I almost expected the quartet to burst into tears at any moment. Blues Melba by Melba Liston was classy, sassy brass. I pictured the composer strutting about like her music.
Deep River by the students was soothing and gentle contrasting with the next piece Spanish Gypsy Dance.
Back to the pros and the Judy Garland set with the Trolley Song from Meet Me in St Louis with all the rhythmic thrill of a moving train, followed by the classic Over the Rainbow and Get Happy from the 1950 film Summer Stock was lovely, lively and cheering, as if the trombonists were singing the words.
Next, Bones Apart and all the players from the workshops combined forces as an orchestra to perform Sway and Frank Sinatra's New York, New York was an exuberant (nearly) end. But not quite.
They had an old favourite up their sleeves. Stars and Stripes was eye-wateringly, pacey, impressive playing. Yet, how else should a concert end of such creative calibre and capability and a wonderful collaboration between professionals and pupils?
A warm thank you to Cheddar Valley Music Club teacher and leader Anne Higgs for organising the workshop and concert, and to Bones Apart for bringing their love for brass music to Cheddar."
By Lis Warren
"The relaxed atmosphere at many of the concerts was exemplified by the four female trombonists, Bones Apart, who presented a fun and diverse programme. We enjoyed familiar tunes from Bizet's Carmen, some solemn Beethoven (who apparently called the trombone "the voice of God") and the jazzy West Side Story. I'd no idea how nimble a trombone, even the sonorous bass, could be. The quartet was formed in Manchester and before beginning the joyous Bernstein tunes they quoted him as saying "This will be our reply to violence".
By Dr. Ian Maxwell
"For nearly twenty years, the members of the trombone quartet Bones Apart have been entertaining and delighting audiences to great acclaim, both in Britain and worldwide, with their virtuoso performances of an eclectic repertoire composed or arranged for four trombones. On Sunday 28 May at Lowmoor Church, Wigton, an appreciative audience of nearly eighty was privileged to enjoy a Solway Arts promoted recital given by the ensemble, which, on this occasion, included local girl Sarah Williams playing bass trombone as well as Beth Calderbank, together with longer standing members Becky Smith - principal trombonist of English National Opera, and Helen Vollam - principal trombonist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
The repertoire for trombone quartet is not extensive, but Bones Apart have set about rectifying that by a combination of commissions of original works, and arrangements - many by Helen Vollam. Examples from each of these forms was included in Sunday afternoon's programme, which began with Toccata and Chiome d'Oro by Monteverdi, celebrating the 450th anniversary of the composer's birth. These short works amply demonstrated from the outset the individual skills and talents of the players, together with the precision of their ensemble playing. One of the few works specifically composed for trombone quartet, Drei Equali by Beethoven followed, showcasing the noble sound of the instruments.
Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte showed off the lyrical characteristics of the trombone, although the difficulties presented by longer sustained notes were evident from adjustments made in the arrangement of the original piano music. Sir Henry Wood's arrangement of the sea-song Spanish Ladies, formed the basis of Señoras - a Bones Apart commission from composer and fellow-trombonist Dan Jenkins. This work featured a kaleidoscope of musical styles and enabled each of the players to demonstrate their individual virtuosity. The first half of the recital ended with a delightful suite of arrangements from Bizet's opera Carmen, which showed the versatility and capabilities of an instrument frequently regarded only as a supporting act.
A loose theme based on French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger underpinned the second half of the programme, which featured an arrangement of her song Les lilac sont en folie. Arrangements of works by Boulanger's students Aaron Copland - At the River and Simple Gifts, and Astor Piazzolla - including the well-known Oblivion, were framed by arrangements of Three Piano Preludes by George Gershwin, and a selection of numbers from the Leonard Bernstein musical West Side Story. Copland's At the River covered the entire range of resonances possible with the trombone - from plaintive, lyrical sounds, to powerful, brassy calls, and in Piazzolla's Postcards from Argentina, the listener was effortlessly transported into the very heart of the land of the tango.
Describing the virtuosity demonstrated in the selections from West Side Story which closed the programme could fill a review on its own. The rhythmic vitality of America, and the rapid melodic transfers in encore arrangement Gee, Officer Krupke were handled faultlessly. Prolonged applause was an appropriate conclusion to one of the finest musical recitals to have been presented in Wigton in recent years."
Workshop and Concert in Cheddar
By Anne Higgs
"You are fantastic ambassadors for the trombone, great role models. You display stunning versatility, dexterity, originality and musicianship. Your visit has made a big impact, thank you very much"
"Thank you so much for the very special day Bones Apart gave us in Cheddar. You are the most amazing players and teachers. We hope you will be able to visit us again soon.
With best wishes from The Cheddar Valley Music Club"
On Sunday March 29th 2015, North Westmorland Arts provided a sizeable and enthusiastic audience to give Bones Apart a very warm reception on what was in fact a return visit to the Society. For the quartet's latest recruit, Sarah Williams on bass trombone, temporarily replacing Lorna McDonald, who is busy in Bermuda, this was something of a homecoming. She was born in Wigton, in Cumbria, so her family were present at what was a very enjoyable evening. Helen Vollam, Becky Smith and Jayne Murrill all seemed very much at home as well. The music was linked by the theme, 'If Music be the Food of Love' and the programme was inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare.
The history plays, Henry V and Richard III, were prominent and The Agincourt Song from Henry V made a splendid opener whilst the less familiar music from Richard III provided an excellent short suite, given its first airing by the group. Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tchaikovsky's Hamlet each provided tasteful suites for the quartet. More contemporary evocations of Shakespearean themes were provided by stunning arrangements including Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder and John Dankworth's If Music be the Food of Love.
If there are any BTS members who have never seen Bones Apart live, then they should. They are a superb example of the music trombones can make.
Twenty-four trombone enthusiasts, descended upon Bromley Temple Salvation Army hall on March 28th for the 2015 Bromley Trombone Workshop, led by Brett Baker and Paul Woodward, featuring Bones Apart and Black Dyke Trombone quartets, some of the very finest ‘tromboneers’ in the country!
The group represented a wide range of ages and abilities, the youngest being just 11, and another of which had travelled from Rotterdam to be with us!
It was a delight to welcome Bones Apart – Helen Vollam (especially after so many email exchanges!), Jayne Murrill, Becky Smith and (standing in for regular bass trombonist Lorna McDonald) Sarah Williams to the workshop. It was good also to watch as both quartets met for the first time and have quartet selfies taken…
Bones Apart, originally formed in 1999 in Manchester have rapidly gained international acclaim as a leading trombone ensemble, and they played a varied programme, with that lush sound that orchestral players seem to produce, playing with great poise and finesse and varying from classical to jazz in style. Coming from an orchestral background, there was a different feel to what we’d heard previously, so it was a different experience to hear them play.
They looked like they were having a great time, and took it in turns to introduce their pieces, whilst at the same time inviting questions from the audience. Their set included arrangements from composers as diverse as Felix Mendelssohn and Cole Porter, playing a suite of music from A Midsummer Nights Dream and So In Love respectively, with a bit of Walton and some traditional tunes in between. It was fascinating to observe how the solo lines were passed around within the group, and it was hard to tell who was playing what, which is down to the clever arrangements, many of them by Helen. This was a first class set, brilliantly played.
It had been a superb day of music making, learning and entertainment by some of the finest players in the country, and although I quiver slightly at the prospect, I look forward to organizing another Bromley Trombone Workshop – at some point!
Playing to a packed hall, the concert kicked off with Bromley band playing Dudley Bright’s sparkling march Spirit of the West, featuring the hymn I’ll stand for Christ; a very fine march from a fabulous trombone player.
The workshop delegates came forward to play their first item, Ray Steadman-Allen’s timeless classic, Trombone Vespers, chosen partly as a tribute to ‘RSA’, and introduced and conducted by Paul Woodward. Accompanied by the band and featuring The Vesper Hymn, it is a lovely trombone feature. They followed this with something completely different; John Williams’ Indiana Jones March conducted by Jayne Murrill. The group made a full, rich sound, as only a group of trombones can!
It was then the turn of Bones Apart to play, and this amazing group of players started us off with a Tango, Jealousy, which features a duet of competing trombones, played by Jayne and Becky, acting…well, jealously!
They followed this with a delightful Roger Harvey arrangement of Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair, with the solo line being beautifully played by Jayne, and then went on to play Tico Tico at a blistering pace, in another great arrangement of a classic.
To the delight of the crowd, they finished their first set with Simon Wills arrangement of the Sousa march, The Stars and Stripes Forever. You may be familiar with the YouTube video of the group playing this – the most watched trombone video on the Internet, apparently! It was met with rapturous applause and cheers – a magnificent display of playing.
To read the full review visit www.bromleytromboneworkshop.org.uk
Last week we experienced the first ever 'Dulwich College Trombone Week', bringing to the community the special sound of this unique instrument. After a pop up concert in the Christison Hall, a whole Junior School assembly, try-outs in the Junior School playground on a bright red pBone, a dedicated lunchtime concert in the College Chapel featuring former Syd Lawrence Orchestra principal trombonist Jon Stokes (who also came and sat in with the Big Band and Other Big Band) we ended the week with a visit from the world renowned trombone quartet Bones Apart.
We started the afternoon with a recital in the Old Library where the girls (Becky, Jayne, Sarah and Helen) performed an exciting programme of music based on a Shakespearian theme. They began with a sublime arrangement of a song written in 1415 at the battle of Agincourt, then visited Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me Kate' en route to Bernstein's West Side Story, ending with an electrifying 'America'. After an afternoon of workshops and a master class where Greg South (tenor trombone) and Henry Briggs (bass trombone) were put through their paces the week ended with a concert by the two College trombone quartets and a massed ensemble performance of the 'Theme from Rocky'.
Church Stretton Festival, Shropshire
By Glenn Pollard
Shropshire Music Service, Summer 2014
ITA Journal April 2013, Volume 41
By Michael Davidson
University of Texas
TEN is a brilliant offering from the Bones Apart Trombone Quartet. The CD is a compilation of music written and performed over the decade from the group's inception, from 1999-2009. The quartet covers a great breadth of musical styles periods, from Renaissance music to Gershwin, from Stephen Foster to Jimmy Van Heusen, from Tchaikovsky to tango - if you can't find something you like on this CD, something's the matter with you! The group changes styles (and registers!) with ease and displays exceptional technical and musical capabilities. The arrangements ably showcase the group's talents and strengths.
'Annie Laurie' is superbly played. The piccolo solo in 'Stars and Stripes Forever' sounds terrific when performed on trombone. The group's performance on the Sousa and in the 'Nutcracker Suite' is inspiring because, frankly, it just sounds so easy! 'Tank Corps March' has the group's musical skills on full display. Indeed, there are so many attention-grabbing "happenings" on this track that it is at times hard to believe there are only four parts being played.
Finally, although every track on this CD is impressive, words cannot adequately describe 'Here's That Rainy Day' and 'My Funny Valentine' - the quartet's performance of these works is quite extraordinary. You MUST listen to appreciate the artistry.
Bones Apart is, without question, one of the finest trombone quartets in the world, and TEN is a magnificent recording.
7 March 2013
By Peter Baker
Leicester Lunchtime Concerts
You can be moved to tears by string quartets, uplifted by singers, astounded by pianists but you can only be seduced by trombones. Preferably four of them, preferably played by the angels of the trombone, the all-female Bones Apart, Helen, Jayne, Becky and Lorna. Their extraordinary technical ability and expressive harmonies, innate musicality and wonderful sounds successfully seduced a Leicester Lunchtime Concert audience.
Monteverdi, Purcell, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Massenet and Humperdinck played by trombones was like seeing composers in new clothes. Ravel’s Pavane, always moving was exquisite. Weill’s Threepenny Opera was much enhanced by a slippery, slidey Mack the Knife well-suited to the trombone’s unique glissando.
Dan Jenkins’ commission Scenes from Sherwood were literally character building from a stalwart Robin Hood to a drunken Friar Tuck - trombones are particularly good at being drunk. It had outlaws descending from trees and a tremendous battle with the Sherriff of Nottingham’s men.
Finally, over to Big Band mode with a tribute to the equally seductive Judy Garland in a lilting Over the Rainbow and a bouncy Get Happy. Bliss!
4 April 2012
By Jay Friedman
Principal Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
10 October 2011
By Daniel Harding
Deputy Director of University Music
University of Kent
A Class Apart: trombone quartet are top brass
Celebrating a decade of support from Furley Page Solicitors, this year’s Lunchtime Concert season got off to an heraldic start with a visit from the award-winning trombone quartet, Bones Apart.
A well-conceived programme blended an array of musical styles, all inspired by the works of Shakespeare, ranging from the Baroque to Bernstein. Three movements from Purcell’s The Fairie Queen opened the concert, including a light-footed arrangement of the ‘Chaconne.’ There was also some warm, lyrical playing in Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the melody originally appearing in the French horn in the orchestral version here beguilingly played by Jayne Murrill.
The group showed their sassier side with Duke Ellington’s jazzy Such Sweet Thunder, which had the group demonstrating a deft, rhythmic jazz feel and crafted wah-wah mute-playing, all solidly underpinned by Lorna Macdonald. The ensemble then showed some astonishingly deft playing in Tchaikovsky’s incidental music to Hamlet.
Written for an RSC production, Jason Carr’s Poem Unlimited combined five separate motives, each reperesenting one aspect of Polonius’ famous pompous litany of theatrical characteristics, where each facet – comedy, historical, romance, tragedy – was given a separate thematic idea, all woven together. The piece had great rhythmic vitality and some richly colourful sonorities.
A luminary of British jazz, the late John Dankworth’s ‘If Music Be The Food of Love,’ demonstrated a wonderfully lyrical, jazz flavour in an arrangement by Helen Vollam, apparently done with the blessing of the great man himself who came to hear its first performance: an accolade indeed.
The group finished with two pieces from Bernstein’s West Side Story; ‘One Hand, One Heart’ had a rapt audience holding its breath as the group wove a magically lyrical portrayal of the doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, an intimacy then thoroughly and riotously dispelled with ‘Gee, Officer Krupke,’ which was brash, lightning-fast and delivered with great panache, awash with glissandi to the delight of an enthralled crowd.
The players were on magnificent form, demonstrating some virtuosic skills combined with instinctive ensemble playing that had the four players working as one. A magnificent way to begin the new season and to celebrate ten years of music-making with Furley Page: top brass.
Muso Magazine - Dec 10/Jan 11 (Issue 50)
MM: The quartet has just celebrated it's 10th anniversary; how has the ensemble developed over the last decade?
BA: In the last few years our musicianship as a group has developed immensely. We have worked hard to focus on sound and blend, as well as exploring all styles of music. In 2008 Bones Apart was the first brass ensemble to be selected for Music In The Round (a chamber music festival based in Sheffield). We have recorded two CDs, one of original works, 'four4four', and a special 10th anniversary CD of the group's favourite pieces over the years, 'ten'. We have also extensively toured Europe, Japan and the US, giving recitals and masterclasses. Touring is always great fun!
MM: Has your line-up changed in this time?
BA: Becky Smith is the only original member from when the group formed in 1999. Outside the quartet she enjoys a busy freelance career, working with the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, among others. Lorna McDonald joined as the group's bass trombone player in 2002, bringing with her a wealth of experience, particularly in jazz and early music. She is also a member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and is a fantastic arranger. Helen Vollam joined in 2007, but had deputised in the group for some years before. She arranges much of the ensemble's repertoire. Helen is principal trombone of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Jayne Murrill is the most recent addition to the group, joining in 2008. She freelances in the London orchestras and is musical director of East London Brass as well as principal trombone of Redbridge Brass Band.
MM: Do you tire of the attention you receive for being an all-female trombone quartet? BA: We never tire of any attention! We appreciate that four female trombonists is still an unusual sight, but hope that when audiences hear us perform they enjoy what we do and enjoy the versatility of the trombone.
MM: Are there preconceptions about women brass players in the 21st century?
BA: Not at all, thanks to wonderful players like trumpet soloist Alison Balsom, trombonist Katy Jones and horn player Angela Barnes (LSO), and tuba player Carol Jantsch (Philadelphia Orchestra). The list goes on...!
MM: Is it difficult to source repertoire for the trombone quartet format?
BA: There are a number of original works for trombone quartet, but few are accessible to most audiences. We arrange a lot of our own repertoire. When we did the Music In The Round tour we based our programme on music inspired by the plays of Shakespeare. This worked incredibly well, with music by Mendelssohn, Tim Jackson, Duke Ellington, Bernstein and Sir John Dankworth. The audiences really loved it!
MM: What are you doing to raise the profile of the trombone?
BA: We are actively commissioning new works for the group. We had two new pieces written especially for our 10th anniversary tour, one by Matthew Taylor and another by Dan Jenkins. The trombone already has a great orchestral and jazz profile, and Christian Lindberg has transformed the solo repertoire. We want to develop the trombone into having a real role in chamber music. And of course there is always the comical side of the instrument, which never ceases to please!
MM: Sum up your ethos as a group in one sentence.
BA: If we can enthuse people to listen to, or take part in any kind of music, then we are hopefully helping to secure music's invaluable place in all our lives.
8 June 2010
By Bob Hughes
President of the British Trombone Society
Former Bass Trombone, London Symphony Orchestra
THIS latest CD from Bones Apart celebrates the 10th anniversary of the group's formation. Despite numerous changes in personnel over the years Bones Apart have proved through the highest artistic standards and excellent marketing that it is possible to thrive as a highly successful trombone quartet. The group's previous four albums have attracted the highest accolades worldwide and I predict that this fifth album will also receive great reviews.
The music on this disc is on the lighter side and has all been arranged by members of the group and some illustrious friends eg. Richard Cheetham, Roger Harvey, John Challis and Simon Wills. The CD has been expertly engineered and produced by Tom Watson. The quality of the recording has both clarity and resonance.
The playing throughout, as you might expect, is top drawer stuff. Not only is it technically highly impressive and polished, the musicianship is of the highest order. Naturally sensitive phrasing and blend of ensemble is evident throughout this disc.
My personal highlights are the Three Gershwin Preludes, the imaginative use of harmon mutes in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Helen's seductive playing on My Funny Valentine.
This recording stands up to some serious listening. On the other hand if you'd like some easy listening music to accompany your Spaghetti Bolognese put it on as you crack open the Chianti!
10 November 2009
By Joseph Alessi
Given the number of ensembles and chamber groups that come and go over the years, it's very much to the credit of Bones Apart that the pioneering all girl champions of the trombone quartet are still going strong in this, the group's tenth anniversary year.
True, there have been one or two personnel changes over that first decade, but the objectives of the ensemble remain the same; to develop the trombone as an instrument in a chamber music environment, to further grow the now expanding repertoire for trombone quartet and to educate via a range of projects and school workshops that have always remained central to the quartet's activities.
Comprising Becky Smith, Jayne Murrill (familiar to brass band enthusiasts as the Principal Trombone player with Redbridge Brass and conductor of East London Brass), Helen Vollam and Lorna Mc Donald, the members of the group all enjoy successful freelance careers but still find time to devote to touring and recording with the group, the release of this new CD being timed to coincide with a tenth anniversary tour that takes Bones Apart to various parts of the country including the RNCM and RSAMD during October 2009.
Unlike the group's last CD of a couple of years ago Enigma, which predominantly featured arrangements of well know classics, Four 4 Four concentrates on four original and largely light hearted works, three of which are by British trombonist/composers and the fourth, Myths and Legends, by respected American composer Eric Ewazen.
The piece that lends its title to the disc, Brian Lynn's 'Four 4 Four', is one of a substantial handful of original pieces and arrangements that the bass trombonist wrote during his period of involvement with John Kenny's Taverner's Trombones.
It comprises four short, contrasting movements, the first of which is constructed around syncopated rhythmic patterns, followed by a more darkly honed blues, jazzy waltz and a final movement that after an initial fanfare, concludes with a series of somewhat tongue in cheek exercises in slurring - the result of Lynn having spent many hours engaged in 'incessant slur practising' with Dudley Bright.
The fact that Bones Apart can entertain with lip slurs to the degree that they do here has got to say something for the talents of the players involved!
Simon Wills' rather self deprecating description of his 'Sonata' as a 'little jeu d'esprit that hardly merits the attention the dismal musicologists' belies what is actually a substantial piece, the weight of which rests on a darkly sonorous, funereal slow movement (echoes of the austerity of the central movement of Heaton's 'Contest Music' here) that is thrown out of kilter part way through by a somewhat grotesque waltz.
With outer movements that are by turns witty and quirky in equal measure, Bones Apart capture the changing moods of the music with consummate skill, by turns rich and atmospheric in the central movement whilst demonstrating impressive rhythmic agility and technical control in the deceptively demanding third movement.
Myths and Legends
Eric Ewazen's 'Myths and Legends' might initially point towards a more overtly American language, but the piece is surprisingly romantic in the gentle and affecting chorale that forms the second movement, once again sensitively captured and coloured by the gloriously balanced sounds of the ensemble.
The high spirits of the final movement allow each member of the ensemble ample opportunity to demonstrate individual ability, with Bones Apart taking full advantage in a display of impressive virtuosic prowess.
Odd work out
Dan Jenkins' 'Cold Tea, Toast and Marmalade' is in some ways the odd work out, being a single movement five minute piece constructed around the sleazy bass trombone riff heard immediately in the opening bar.
Lorna McDonald is the star here in what amounts to a bass trombone feature, her darkly hued tones being eminently (but perhaps alarmingly!) suited to Jenkins portrait of his apparently dingy student digs whilst studying at the Guildhall School of Music in the 1980s.
It's squalid stuff, as reminiscent of smoky, possibly rather suspect jazz bars as it is of the uniquely stale aroma of student lodgings, although it's a scene the girls of Bones Apart can clearly associate with, given the atmosphere of the performance captured here.
All in all, this is Bones Apart on top form in a programme of original music that engages and entertains in equal measure.
The playing is never less than slick, polished and technically assured, whilst the quality of the recording is every bit as slick as the playing.
By Kevin Price, Head of Brass
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Bones Apart represents all that is best about British brass playing, with a beauty of sound and musicality that is simply stunning. They communicate with passion and humour and serve as wonderful ambassadors for the trombone.
By Bernard Lee
Music by Gounod, Debussy and Mendelssohn may seem unlikely material for four trombones but this highly accomplished all-female quartet demonstrated it was not in their Shakespeare-inspired concert.The tonal variety and pliancy of musical line produced by three tenor trombones and one bass trombone was quite astonishing at times.
The four items from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet judiciously avoided outright vocal items and were highly persuasive because of the attributes mentioned, as was Four Songs from Romeo and Juliet, an original four-trombone work by Tim Jackson, so, too, three extracts from Bernstein's West Side Story which couldn't avoid vocal items, but they worked.
Four pieces from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream music, including the Nocturne, came off well as did, more obviously, Debussy's Fanfare for King Lear and, less obviously, a rather lovely Touch her Soft Lips and Part from Walton's Henry V music.
Jason Carr's Poem Unlimited, an original work after Hamlet, proved to be an enjoyable jazz-inflected piece, heralding Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder and John Dankworth/ Cleo Laine's If Music Be the Food of Love, both from celebrated Shakespeare jazz albums.
An encore, Gee, Officer Krupke (West Side Story) was deliciously rhythmic and lost nothing in 'translation' – indeed, could almost be said to have gained from it.
By Ben Ridler
At its usual venue, the resonant hall of Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor, the new Music Club season got off to a suitably ebullient start on Friday 5th October with an impressive recital by the all-female trombone quartet Bones Apart. Some may have had concerns beforehand as to whether an ensemble of this kind would produce enough variety to sustain a whole concert programme, but any such unease was quickly dispelled. With weight and contrast being provided by the bass trombone (played by Lorna McDonald), the three tenor trombones (played by Helen Vollam, Becky Smith and Jayne Murrill) wove together a fascinating range of sonorities, and a well-judged programme kept the audience engaged from start to finish.
Russian and American music predominated, and Glinka’s ‘Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila’, in a newly made arrangement by Helen Vollam, established from the outset the group’s technical proficiency. (Most of the pieces played were in arrangements made by and for the quartet). American trombonist Eric Ewazen was the composer of the mellifluous ‘Myths and Legends’; more familiar territory was reached with a selection from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’, the highlight of which was a hilarious rendering, ‘wah-wah’ mutes and all, of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. From this point onwards the audience was completely won over, and showed its appreciation enthusiastically at the end of the first half in response to the wild, even savage sounds produced in the course of Khatchaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’.
‘Leave them wanting more’ is a well-tried nostrum, and if there were to be a criticism of the programme it would be that some of the shorter pieces finished just as expectations (e.g. to hear more of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures’) were being aroused. But this was very much a fault on the right side, and the mixture in the second half of items by Prokofiev, Shostakovitch, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and Jerome Kern built on the success of the first. The sheer range of sounds created, encompassing effects that were in turn mellow, lyrical, rumbustuous and (where appropriate) vulgar, continued to dazzle and delight. The laid-back mood of the encore, a version of Jimmy van Heusen’s ‘Here’s that Rainy Day, brought the evening to a reflective and satisfying conclusion.