Trombonist Roger Marks has been a fixture in the British trad/swing scene since at least the late 1970s when he worked with cornetist Rod Mason’s hot band. He began leading his own albums in the late 1980s. While he recorded a duet album with pianist Craig Milverton in the 1990s and made three albums with his Mainstreamers (a trumpetless quintet), most of his recordings have had a fairly conventional instrumentation.
Higher Ground is a bit different for it features Marks as part of a quartet that does not include trumpet, piano, or drums. He teams up with clarinetist Pete Allen, banjoist Pete Sumner, and Dave Holdsworth on sousaphone, an unusual group of instrumentalists that manages to sound very much like a full band. Marks and Allen blend together well, Sumner and Holdsworth are so steady that one does not miss the other instruments, and this is a group that can often get quite heated.
Among the more off-beat songs that the band swings are “Lady Of Spain” (fortunately no accordion is in sight), “Maori Farewell,” “Star Of The Country Down,” and “Faithful Hussar” (played by Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and given lyrics by Sumner). Some of the other more memorable performances include “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Streets Of The City” (which has Allen switching to baritone and Holdsworth heard on trumpet), and “White Cliffs Of Dover.” It all works quite well with each of the musicians displaying flexibility, an individual musical personality, and the ability to build up solos and ensembles. The Brass Farthings are well worth discovering.
Higher Ground (Upbeat URCD 290, 16 selections, TT = 59:34)