‘Firefly’ is the debut album of Christchurch composer Glen Wagstaff along with the Christchurch-based Symposium Jazz Orchestra. The SJO was formed in 2007 and features a core of graduates and faculty from CPIT’s Jazz School. Featuring all original compositions by Wagstaff, ‘Firefly’ was recorded by Michael Bell at Orange Studios in Christchurch in late 2014. You can certainly hear how modern American big band writing has influenced Wagstaff, the album places emphasis on big, lush harmonies that ripple right across the orchestra. And it is a rich palette to work with. A 19-piece orchestra (plus guests Roger Manins on tenor sax and Ellen Barry on wordless vocals) is not something that jazz composers get to work with every day.
This is not an album that grabs you by the ears, but rather seduces you into the music. The work by the musicians (including Wagstaff on guitar) is technically superb – fantastically tight in the sectional and cross-sectional work (kudos to conductor Tom Rainey there) and excellent solo lines right across the board. Wagstaff’s orchestrations make the most of individual players’ abilities and how they work with others in the band. The mixing (done at Free Energy Device Studios in Sydney) and mastering by Michael Lynch are excellent, showcasing the SJO as individual lines as well as a marvellous whole. Anyone interested in jazz orchestration and Kiwi big bands should really go and buy this album now.