Big band albums are rare these days - modernistic big bands where the writing is as accomplished as the playing even rarer. Released to mark the 60th birthday of English pianist and composer Nikki Iles who collaborates here with the mighty NDR Big Band on an album of her own music. At times funkily flavoursome ('Red Ellen') or even nimbly laconic ('Wild Oak' - an Iles track covered on NYJO's She Said issued last year), Face to Face was recorded in Hamburg in 2021 and is a must for all big band fans and especially long time followers of this inventive composer. Pick of the whole album may well be the Kenny Wheeler-like turn the album takes on the poignant title track and the storming 'Awakening' although the Mike Gibbs-like ensemble flourishes found on 'Misfits' also light the album up a good deal. Certainly Iles finds fresh ways to breathe new life into a form that often struggles to be heard these days. UK personnel in the mix includes flautist Gareth Lockrane, trumpeter Percy Pursglove, guitarist Mike Walker and drummer Ian Thomas. A very fine album that everyone involved with should be very proud of.