Any commercially-produced recording with such a bold title as The Incredible PolySteel Band would do well to live up to pre-conceived expectations, but this one does get very close. The past couple of years have been very fruitful for PolySteel and this latest offering from one of the finest bands in the west of England celebrates the successes it has had under Philip Harper, getting underway with his Curtain Up!, which leads directly into the ‘title track’, The Incredibles, and straight away we hear a band that is completely at home with this energetic style of music.
Danny Winder is the flugel soloist in George Michael’s Faith, and he handles the contrasting demands of this challenging solo extremely well. Philip Sparke’s A Malvern Suite, based on the area around PolySteel’s hometown of Gloucester, receives an accomplished reading before Spencer O’Leary gives what can only be described as an exuberant performance of Ray Farr’s fabulous arrangement of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die on soprano cornet. Truly incredible!
The conductor’s tasteful arrangement of The Water of Tyne provides one of the disc’s highlights and Andrew Hicks rises beautifully to the considerable challenge of Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus, even if the band does get slightly over-enthusiastic in the central section.
Neal Hefti’s L’il Darlin’ maintains the tranquil style before there is a complete change of genre in Philip Harper’s excellent Lionheart, which was written for the European Youth Brass Band to perform at the 2007 European Championships in Birmingham. One of the members of that band was PolySteel’s solo horn, Vicki Reynolds, who is the soloist in the Finale from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.
She copes brilliantly with the technical demands of the work, but somehow the arrangement never recovers from the rather tasteless cadenza at the beginning. This listener couldn’t help but think that any piece by Tchaikovsky deserves better than a multi-octave lip slur of the type that is traditionally found in a typical cornet caprice.
Magee’s Patrol and Blue-sleeve Step were both written specially for this recording and the band performs these light works with ease, while principal cornet, Chris Howley, gives a refined performance of Gounod’s Ave Maria. Philip Harper’s arrangement of the Barry Manilow hit, Copacabana, which follows, sums the band’s approach to this recording up perfectly – it sounds like great fun. Rimsky-Korsakov’s well-worn Capriccio Espagnol and the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail end a very enjoyable and well-produced recording from an accomplished and innovative band.
British Bandsman, Saturday 26th July 2008