BBC Proms 2016 / 49: Quincy Jones Prom

The Quincy Jones Prom was last week. I listened to it live as I packed my bag for the trip. What I heard blew me away. (If you find me nestled in the corner of the kitchen looking out of the window while a Prom is blaring out of the radio, you know it’s probably a good one.)

Jules Buckley is the present-day John Wilson, bringing the unexpected into the concert hall and, not so much validating it, as reminding us that the thing we’d forgotten we’d loved was actually made up of real instruments.

The opening medley of Roots Mural, Ironside, and Sandford & Son contained some of the brightest and tautest ensemble work I’ve heard in a long, long time: brassy, funky, and toe-tappingly good. Laura Mvula followed with something exotic and utterly enthralling. After that there was something that transported me back to university days and the musical talents of contemporaries of mine who played a lot of this stuff. And then there was Soul Bossa Nova. My God, does that sound fantastic live.

The jaw-dropping moment was hearing Billie Jean. I didn’t know anything could be done to improve on it, but in Buckley’s hands the arrangement slow build up makes the moment the hitherto implicit harmonies are made explicit a truly delicious one. A triumph.

You’d think I’d have hated the Quincy Jones Prom. It wasn’t what most assume as a Prom concert. I posed the necessary questions to the other half when we sat and watched it on BBC iPlayer on Friday. Does it meet the criteria of a Prom concert and if so, why? Does its inclusion damage or develop the perception of the Proms brand?

The answers were surprisingly easy to come up with. First, it’s the integrity of Quincy Jones’ original creations which lend themselves well to orchestral arrangements. If music can be enhanced in some way, or something new created with the music as a starting point then it has a lasting quality. And if it has a lasting quality, it needs to be celebrated in this way. In that way, it meets the criteria for a Prom concert.

And second, does its inclusion damage or develop the perception of the Proms brand? Not in any way. If anything, it demonstrates what the Proms is – a powerful platform that acts as an introduction to a variety of musical genres. Buckley’s Ibiza Prom last year did that in spades. The Quincy Jones Prom, I think, has the edge – the music has a bit more heft to it.

More than that, the performance brimmed with passion, dedication, and breathtaking talent. This isn’t me being sycophantic. Listen to the articulation in the brass. Listen to the rhythm section. The entire thing is a gripping listen, though I’d argue that the TV broadcast flattens the whole experience somewhat. Best listen on the radio.

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