The Band: Bill Ashton directing Sandy Suchodolski (bass guitar); Dave Elliott (drums); James Larter (percussion); Chris Eldred (keyboard); Jon Russell (guitar); Jeff Brown, Jeremy Law, Tom Walsh, Jack Coward, Rob Greenwood (trumpets); Barry Clements (bass trombone), Mat Walton, Callum Au, Alex Paxton, Jack Loomey (tenor trombones); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Lucas Dodd & Olli Nezahti (altos), Simon Marsh & Will Gibson (tenors), Ben Mallinder (baritone); Jenna Smart (flute). Kwabena Adjepong (left) & Emma Smith did the singing.
The Music: Fleet (Mark Nightingale): Putney Vale (Tom Stone arr. Callum Au) : Abbey Gale (Evan Jolly) : Along Came Benny (Steve Duro) : Chicago (v) (Fred Fisher, arr. Evan Jolly) : It’s So Easy (v) (Mike Sammes/Bill Owen, arr. Alan Hare) : A Nightingale Swang… (Maschwitz & Sherwin, arr. Mark Armstrong) : That Old Black Magic (v) (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer, arr. Billy May) : A Step Too Far (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Callum Au) : Slow Boat To China (Frank Loesser, arr. Martin Williams) : Sir Johnny Comes Marching Home (Trad, arr. Evan Jolly) : Polka Dots And Moonbeams (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen) : Summer Sundays (v) (Steve Gray/Christine Denmead, arr. Tommy Laurence) : Angel Eyes (v) (Matt Dennis & Earl Brent, arr. Callum Au) : Bustance (Callum Au) : One For Oscar (Andy Vintner) : Too Close For Comfort Now (v) (Bock/Holofcener/Weiss, arr Tommy Laurence) : Rockin’ Chair (v) (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Evan Jolly) : Indiana (James Hanley, arr. John Dankworth).
The Gig: An enforced early start to proceedings this month didn’t seem to deter the audience from turning up in their usual numbers to hear NYJO playing at the top of its considerable form – in fact a number of people commented afterwards that they couldn’t remember hearing the band sound better…
The first set kicked off with alumnus Mark Nightingale’s contribution to an abortive NYJO album project intended to celebrate motorway service stations! Fleet was, as its title implies, a tremendously fast minor 24-bar blues – Jeff Brown and Lucas Dodd took the solo honours.
The absent Tom Stone’s Putney Vale, arranged by the present Callum Au, was – this week – a tenor ballad feature for Will Gibson. The trombone section introduced the number, and Jon Russell (right) had a solo towards the end.
An ensemble start to Evan Jolly’s Latin-tinged Abbey Gale, with trumpets well to the fore, led into an extended guitar solo for Jon. Rob Greenwood (well on course to be The Manor’s most frequently appearing musician in 2010) followed with a fine trumpet solo before lots of duetting drums and percussion from Dave Elliott and BBC Young Musician of the Year Percussion Category finalist James Larter brought proceedings to a close.
Along Came Benny, Steve Duro’s homage to Benny Golson, is a classic piece of big band swing. Jack Coward, Simon Marsh and Lucas all had solos, before a sax section soli and Sandy Sucholdolski’s bass interlude concluded the number.
Kwabena Adjepong, apparently soon to be featured in a TV documentary, took the first vocal spot. Evan Jolly’s guitar ‘n’ vibes opening motif for that old warhorse Chicago introduced us to Kwabena’s assured take on this standard – relaxed and taking nicely-judged liberties with the lyrics, he made it his own, whilst Will had a wailing tenor solo part way through. It’s So Easy, part-composed by Bill Owen (Compo from Last Of The Summer Wine), was another medium-paced swinger that suited Kwabena’s style down to the ground – Jeff’s complementary solo added the icing to the cake…
Arranger Rob McConnell’s death had been reported earlier in the week and, although NYJO has none of his arrangements in its repertoire, Bill Ashton felt it appropriate to mark the occasion with Mark Armstrong’s A Nightingale Swang… because it features contrapuntal section playing which, apparently, was a signature feature of many of McConnell’s charts. The sax section provided the intro, eventually being joined by the initially muted, then open, trombones. Muted, then open, trumpets entered the mix before Callum and Olli Nezahti (right) provided the solos. The brass then did their contrapuntal stuff before the big ensemble finish, leavened by Dave’s drums.
Bill’s baby granddaughter Ella was in the audience today, so Emma Smith’s first vocal gave us a touch of That Old Black Magic, a song long associated with that other Ella, Fitzgerald (see what Bill did there?). The arrangement was one Billy May wrote for Ella F, and Emma S (right) did more than justice to it – Will contributed a super solo.
The first set finished with one of Bill’s songs, A Step Too Far, which the exuberant Emma took by the scuff of the neck – Lucas provided a lovely alto counterpoint.
Set two set sail with a number from the NYJO back catalogue that we haven’t heard in ages – Martin Williams’ trumpet duet arrangement of Slow Boat To China. Rob and Tom Walsh (left, recently the inaugural recipient of the Humphrey Lyttleton Royal Academy of Music Jazz Award) took on the solo and duetting responsibilities.
Sir Johnny Comes Swinging Home is Evan Jolly’s interpretation of the traditional American Civil War tune, written to commemorate NYJO’s late Vice-President Sir John Dankworth’s knighthood honour. It was taken at a fast clip and featured solos by Lucas and Dave, the latter with guitar interjections from Jon.
Polka Dots And Moonbeams is fast becoming a regular instrumental ballad feature for Callum at The Manor – Bill loves the tune, hates the words; in a change to the usual keyboard opening, Jon provided a delightful guitar introduction.
Emma (right) returned with a couple of markedly different songs that demonstrated her extensive range perfectly – Summer Sundays is Christine Denmead’s light and wistful evocation of English summer weekends (cricket, warm beer, butterflies, lawnmowers – that kind of thing), introduced by a delightful a capella guitar and vocal duet, whilst Angel Eyes was all scat vocals over a heavy rock beat: Olli’s tenor solo fitted the mood perfectly. Great stuff!
One of Callum’s original scores – Bustance – followed. It was a feature for Barry Clements’ brilliant bass trombone playing but Callum did find space for a sax section soli and (for this concert, at least) a rare piano solo from Chris Eldred. Because he hadn’t had much to do up to this point, Bill felt Chris needed a feature so Andy Vintner’s One For Oscar, written as a tribute to the late Oscar Peterson, was resurrected from the pad – and it’s the perfect piece to demonstrate Chris’s remarkable keyboard technique.
We were then treated to a brace of songs from Kwabena: Tommy Laurence’s insistently swinging arrangement of Too Close For Comfort, which featured a wonderful solo from Will, gave Kwabena a readily-grasped opportunity to stretch out on a classic standard, whilst Evan Jolly’s fine arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad Rockin’ Chair, in which the elegiac vocal was highlighted by some lovely guitar playing by Jon over muted trumpets and flugelhorns, had Rob contributing a fine flugel solo.
With only minutes remaining before this week’s early curfew, Bill decided to end the concert with another tribute to Sir John – this one Dankworth’s own arrangement of Indiana. Taken at an indecently fast tempo, it featured a baritone solo from Ben Mallinder and provided a rip-roaring finale to an afternoon of big band magic.
Review: Steve Harris/Ian Fielding : Photos: Bill Ashton/Alan Tagg