“Endless Power” CD Review
Review by Craig Lewis
Territorial Secretary for Music & Gospel Arts, Canada & Bermuda
Endless Power – this is an apt name for the latest recording by the New York Staff Band. Not only is this theme well represented in much of the repertoire, but it equally applies to the impressive sound and technique of the band. We have long come to expect the NYSB to be at the forefront of innovative programming and repertoire selection, so I was keen to receive this recording; the first under the baton of Bandmaster Derek Lance. I can say without hesitation that this is one of the finest Salvation Army band recordings to be produced in recent memory. Let me explain why I make this bold pronouncement.
Presentation and Sound
The very first thing you notice about this recording is the striking artwork. The dichromatic use of red and black throughout the entire booklet is very powerful and underscores the strong Christian message contained within the music. This is also the first recording from the NYSB’s new state of the art bandroom studio, and the clarity and transparency in the sound is second to none. Recording Engineer Phil Bulla has done an excellent job of ensuring that every voicing is heard in balance, including some of the subterranean notes from the BBb Bass.
This recording is comprised of all new music, including the winner of the NYSB’s Composition Contest, so on the first listen through there are no pre-conceived notions on how pieces should sound. Without your ears being constrained by previous interpretations, you are able to sit with an open mind and assess each piece on its own merit. Fortunately on this recording, there are no pieces that are riding on the coattails of the others. Every piece rightfully deserves to be here. I suspect that I am not alone in enjoying band pieces that are built around good solid tunes, especially some of the great hymns of the church, and on this recording they are present in abundance.
There are three pieces that could be excellent openers in their own right. Semper Fidelis (Martin Cordner) wins the spot on this recording, but Living Power (Tom Davoren) and Thy Matchless King (Joel Collier) are equal in their energy and driving rhythms and will be put to good use as an opener by many bands in the days ahead.
For those who look for the latest ‘big’ piece on a new staff band recording, there are three excellent items on offer here. The first, Fearless (Andrew Wainwright) was the winner of the NYSB Competition Contest, and it is clear to see why. The haunting reference to “those who speak be fearless, those who serve be blameless” throughout underscores the message for the Christian that is contained in the music. Andrew has been writing some very popular numbers, but with Fearless he seems to have taken his composing to another level. Martin Cordner’s second contribution to the CD, Wake Up The Saint, further demonstrates what he does so well; help the listener visualize the story being told in the music. The use of chanting to represent the voices of the saints is a unique tool he employs with great effect. The title track, Endless Power, is a substantial work from Marcus Venables that was written specifically for this recording. This work has a very Steadman-Allen-esque feel to it. Having an intimate knowledge of the players in the band, Marcus has created a work that tests the limits of the players, while still allowing the message to come through clear and plain. While the band enthusiasts will enjoy this for its technicality, the use of strong tunes makes this accessible for the average listener as well.
For me, the genius in this recording is actually the pacing. The program has a wonderful ebb and flow that gives you energy and power, contrasted with the gentleness and reflection of some more meditative items. The simplicity of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Jonathan Rowsell), the warmth of Radiance (Andrew Garcia), the sheer beauty of The Christ of Calvary (Joel Collier), and the majestic building of Beside the Sea (Andrew Mackereth) all provide room and space to relax, breathe and revel in the message of the music.
Musicianship and Virtuosity
From a musical standpoint, there are few Salvation Army bands that could cope with all the demands presented in the repertoire on this recording. From extremes of technique, to musical shapes and phrases, the NYSB handles it all with aplomb. This is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the solo items. In Streamlined (Marcus Venables), cornetists Brindley Venables and Major Stewart Dalrymple show technique and range provides no challenge for them. Soprano soloist Christopher Ward, who can be heard throughout the recording providing power and brilliance, plays a version of Pie Jesu (Gabriel Faure arr. Dorothy Gates) that highlights his sensitivity and control.
There you have it; all the reasons why this recording is a must for your personal collection. This is an exciting first collaboration between BM Lance and the NYSB, and it clearly shows that the band will continue to grow from strength to strength and be a trendsetter in Salvation Army banding.
Purchase Digitally: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/newyorkstaffband14
Purchase Hard Copy: http://music.saconnects.org/product/endless-power/