The starting point for this piece was jazz. Jazz was the first music that I became actively involved in, as a trumpeter in my teens, but, until City Adventures, I have never attempted to write a substantial jazz piece. This is partly because the jazz that I have played has mostly been small group music that is almost always extemporised – head arrangements of standards, nothing elaborate. But when Evelyn Glennie asked me to writer her a concerto, I saw an opportunity to explore another area of jazz that has rarely been touched on by ‘serious’ composers – big band jazz. It was the sheer rhythmic and physical excitement of the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basic and the drummer led bands of Gene Krupa and Louis Belson that led me to try and bring some of this exuberant energy to my concerto. Although it is a conventional concerto in its shape, it differs from the standard form in the role of the soloist. In the classical concerto, the soloist would almost always state the thematic material. But in this piece, particularly in the first and last movements the soloists role is quite different. The orchestra plays the themes and the soloists task is drive the orchestra along, leading from the front on the jazz kit, moving to tuned percussion (vibraphone and marimba) for the more lyrical sections.
The title refers to my seeing jazz as essentially a city music. And if I had any particular city in mind, it would be New York. And if I had any particular musician in mind it would be none of those mentioned above, but Charles Mingue, the anarchic, exuberant and unpredictable base-playing, band-leading composer who managed to achieve a near perfect balance of freedom and organisation in his work.
City Adventures is in three movements. The first, A Meeting with Charles Mingus, is, after a short introduction, built up from long melodic lines over a series of riffs, whose momentum is occasionally interrupted by slower more lyrical sections. Despite the title, there are no musical quotes from Minqua, although there is a very brief reference to a Due Ellington Tune near the very end.
The second movement, A Minor Blues, is a set of variations on twelve bar blues theme, introduced as a duet for marimba and bass clarinet then moving up through the orchestra via alto saxophone followed by trumpets, through some major/minor variants which lead to a walking base passage in double time, climaxing in a cadenza for vibraphone and marimba and ending with a short coda.
The final movement, the City Danco, is in rondo form. The staccato-syncopated theme is stated by marimba and strings. This is followed by an episode for vibraphone over a two bar riff. The soloists then moves to the tom-toms for fortissimo climax leading back to a restatement of the opening theme. The next episode is in triple time, building again to a massive climax which gradually fades to a nocturnal coda lead by the vibraphone – the city going to sleep perhaps.