The Band: Bill Ashton directing Conor Chaplin (bass guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); Dave Elliott(percussion); Chris Eldred (keyboard); Jon Russell (guitar); Rob Greenwood, Tom Walsh, Nick Mead, Jeff Brown, Henry Armburg-Jennings (trumpets); Barry Clements (bass trombone), Alex Paxton, Callum Au, Ross Anderson, Kieron McLeod (tenor trombones); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Lucas Dodd & Johnny Griffiths (altos), Simon Marsh & Will Gibson (tenors), Abraham Mennen (baritone); Rosie Stano (flute). Sarah Ellen Hughes (right) & Kwabena Adjepong did the singing.
The Music: U-Turn (Steve Titchener) : Dear John (Dick Walter) : Easy To Love (Cole Porter, arr. Callum Au) : Let’s Settle Down (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Evan Jolly) : You Were Marvellous Darling (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Tommy Laurence) : Cannon Fodder (Allan Ganley) : Chicago (v) (Fred Fisher, arr. Evan Jolly) : Rockin’ Chair (v) (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Evan Jolly) : Indiana (James Hanley, arr. John Dankworth) : Resurrection (Henry Armburg-Jennings) : Almost There (Anthony Adams) : La Muchacha De Colombia (Martin Williams) : Georgia On My Mind (v) (Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Evan Jolly) : Rose Room (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Evan Jolly) : Lisson Groove (Evan Jolly) : My Funny Valentine (v) (Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, arr. Mark Nightingale) : Much Too Much (v) (Bill Ashton arr. Chris Smith). [Vocal numbers marked (v)]
The Gig: This concert was a vintage performance by NYJO, playing at the top of its considerable form. A sparkling mixture of standards, numbers written by current and ex-band members, a handful of Bill Ashton’s classy songs and a couple of tributes to Sir John Dankworth – whose recent death brought to a close his 43-year tenure as NYJO’s Vice-President – made for a nicely balanced programme. And the surprise one-off return of singer Sarah Ellen Hughes just put the icing on the cake!
Steve Titchener’s fast big band swinger U-Turn is an ideal opening number – after Chris Eldred’s (left) extended piano intro, Will Gibson and Jeff Brown grabbed their meaty solo opportunities with both hands. Dear John, a trombone feature for Callum Au, was the first of the Dankworth tributes: a quiet opening, with some delicious brushwork from Scott Chapman under Callum’s wistful playing, evolved into a faster tempo with a swing solo before reverting to a ballad, ending with a lovely a capella coda.
Callum’s up-tempo arrangement of Cole Porter’s Easy To Love featured solos from Will, this time on clarinet, and Rob Greenwood. Scott interjected some appropriate drum fills during the ensemble breaks, and contributed a solo near the end, before Will took it to a conclusion with some lovely clarinet playing over the rest of the band.
Sarah, a long-time champion of Bill’s vocal œuvre, chose two of his songs to mark her (sadly, one-off) return to the band. Let’s Settle Down started with Jon Russell accompanying Sarah through the intro – later Henry Armburg-Jennings and Lucas Dodd added solos.
You Were Marvellous Darling, an elegiac reflection on lost love, had Will (left) both soloing and providing a delightful tenor counterpoint to Sarah’s vocal towards the end of the number.
Cannon Fodder, by the late Allan Ganley, is a NYJO staple – the sax section had an early soli before the ubiquitous Will, and Simon Marsh and Henry (muted trumpet), had solos. Jeff (flugel) and Henry then traded 8s and 4s before the ensemble play-out.
Unlike Sarah, Kwabena Adjepong opted for standards for his first vocal set, starting with ex-band member Evan Jolly’s arrangement of Fred Fisher’s familiar paean to Chicago – Will (again!) was the soloist. Evan also provided a fine arrangement for Kwabena’s next song – Hoagy Carmichael’s Rockin’ Chair – and Henry added an equally fine flugel solo.
The first set ended with another tribute to Sir John, this one an alto feature for Johnny Griffiths (right) playing Dankworth’s arrangement of Indiana – according to Bill, this is based on the chords of Donna Lee. Will once again provided the solo.
One of the great strengths of NYJO’s music philosophy is that band members are encouraged to write and arrange their own original material. So the second set started with Resurrection, an up-tempo number, written by Henry for his Quintet recording Out Of The Starting Blocks, re-arranged for big band. After a guitar intro from Jon, Henry was featured on flugel – a sax section soli was followed by a yet another solo from the willing Will before the ensemble coda.
Almost There was a masterful guitar ballad feature for Jon, whilst Martin Williams’ perennial band favourite La Muchacha… gave Barry Clements, Lucas, Callum and Henry further exposure to the solo spotlight. Scott and Dave Elliott gave a dramatic drums ‘n’ percussion display to bring the piece to its conclusion.
Kwabena (right) returned with another Evan Jolly-arranged Hoagy Carmichael offering, the reflective Georgia On My Mind. Henry started with a solo statement of the theme, and the ensemble joined in, with the sax section on flutes, before the vocal refrain – Chris then played it out on piano. Rose Room, although a nice tune, and very old, is not a traditional standard, partly because, as Bill attests, the original words are rubbish… To remedy this, Bill wrote some new ones, got Evan to arrange the tune and Kwabena to sing the result – and very good it was too, with the sax section contributing an accomplished soli break half way through.
Evan also wrote, arranged and named the next one – Lisson Groove – in a hip reference to the eponymous Grove near the band’s rehearsal venue. This is an extended work-out for the trombone section, both collectively and individually – after a section soli, Callum, Kieron McLeod (left) and Alex Paxton each took a solo and then traded 8s and 4s over some of Scott’s subtle drum interjections before the big ensemble finish.
Two songs brought the concert to a conclusion: the first of these, Mark Nightingale’s arrangement of Rodgers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine, had been re-worked by Sarah and Kwabena, during the break between sets, as a stunning vocal duet. Chris and Jon introduced it with an a cappella duet before the trombone section came in under the duetting singers. Later still Jon contributed some wonderfully lyrical guitar lines to complement the vocals before providing a beautiful solo with just the rhythm section for accompaniment. Then the trombones, playing with just the rhythm section, led into Sarah and Kwabena’s delightfully harmonised coda – this was a musical tour de force by everyone involved…
On the basis that you can’t have too much of a good thing, and since she was a special guest with the band today, Sarah took the opportunity to conclude the concert with one of Bill’s up-beat vocal ‘classics’, Much Too Much. Arranged by Chris Smith, it’s a great chart, swings like mad – Kieron had a solo; Sarah did some vocalese – and, with its abrupt ending, it satisfies the old criterion of success: leave the audience wanting more…
They certainly did, but they’ll just have to come back next time NYJO play The Manor!
Review: Steve Harris & Ian Fielding : Pictures: Alan Tagg & Bill Ashton