This New Jazz Orchestra article was written by Zoe Anderson, a GIGsoup contributor
‘Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ is a colourful and lively set of arrangements from the British New Jazz Orchestra, a large group of jazz musicians who formed a collective whilst studying at University College London in the 1960s. After releasing ‘Western Union’, their first record, the group continued to preform and record well into the late 1960s, after a multitude of line-up and leadership changes. More than fifty years on, ‘Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ is still a delight to listen to, and paints a vibrant picture of buzzing London jazz scene of the time. NJO purportedly played as much as once every week during the mid 60s, which is impressive, considering the sheer number of artists involved in the project. The group even went on to support for the likes of Ronnie Scott and Don Rendell during the beginning of their careers, a testament to the range of talent displayed in the group.
NJO have been praised for their melodious tightness and brilliant spritely arrangements. The title track of ‘Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ launches straight into a lively and upbeat rhythm with a characteristically sultry brass section flooding in straight from the outset. The album is draped in a droopy snare rhythm that is characteristic of NJO’s brand of big band jazz. The album is extremely diverse, and changes tempo frequently throughout. ‘Study’ is a slow and warming number, which relies heavily on NJO’s brass section and an abundance of Jack Bruce’s stand up bass. ‘Naima’ goes on to transport the listener into a classic film noir scene with a building of brass tension through the beginning of the track. All the tracks on this album lend themselves well to a crunchy vinyl sound, which gives them an air being played in a smoky basement room.
So named after the famous Manet painting, the album retains an air of muted sophistication even today. Not widely known or acknowledged, ‘Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe’ is a highly recommended listen for anyone who enjoys smooth jazz or any of the other endlessly branching sub-genres that have sprung up over the twentieth century. NJO’s surviving members regrouped briefly for a thirty-year anniversary in 1993, at the Barbican Center in London. Now their work lives on in small vinyl shops, buried amongst other hidden treasures of music.