The Band: Bill Ashton directing Sandy Suchodolski (bass guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); Dave Elliott (percussion); Andy Highmore (keyboard); Jon Russell (guitar); Mark Perry, Rob Greenwood, Tom Walsh, Laura Jurd, Jeff Brown (trumpets); Barry Clements (bass trombone), Alex Paxton, Zebedy Tomkins, Ross Anderson, Charlie Valentine (tenor trombones); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Lucas Dodd & Olli Nezahti (altos), Tom Stone & Simon Marsh (tenors), Abe Mennen (baritone); Helen Wilson & David Ruff (flutes). Emma Smith & Noemi Nuti (right) did the singing.
The Music: A Foggy Day (Gershwin, arr. Steve Titchener) : They Can’t Take That Away From Me (Gershwin, arr. John Dankworth) : Abbey Gale (Evan Jolly) : Flinders And Trim (Callum Au) : You’d Think I’d Learn (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Josh Daniels) : The Girl You Almost Love (v) (Ed Randall, arr. Callum Au) : Bustance (Callum Au) : Finding My Feet (v) (Bill Ashton, arr.Will Bartlett) : Looking Back (v) (Derek Goome, arr. Mark Nightingale) : The Kids From Red House (Bill Ashton, arr. Gareth Lockrane) : Never The Twain (Matt Wates) : Are We Nearly There Yet? (Callum Au) : Over And Over Again (v) (Dick Walter) : Getting Used To You (v) (Bill Ashton arr. Evan Jolly) : Lisson Groove (Evan Jolly) : Neale’s Yard (Martin Williams) : It’s Good To Walk (Dave Foster) : I Was Hoping (v) (Bill Ashton) : Don’t Go To Her (v) (Bill Ashton) [Vocal numbers marked (v)]
The Gig: There were three new faces in the band today: singer Noemi Nuti, trombonist Zebedy Tomkins and keyboardist Andy Highmore – it was a very mild spring day too!
Steve Titchener’s bright and breezy arrangement of Gershwin’s A Foggy Day In London Town got the concert started. The saxophone section set it going with the statement of the theme and we heard solos from Laura Jurd and Tom Stone. This was followed by another great standard, Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me, arranged by the late Sir John Dankworth. It was a very slow arrangement, which started with a theme statement from the full ensemble and a solo from Tom Stone (left) on the middle eight of the first chorus. Andy contributed a solo before the saxophone section brought it to a graceful conclusion.
The full ensemble started Evan Jolly’s Abbey Gale, with both flutes well to the fore. Lots of high notes from the trumpets followed and then there were two superb flute solos from David Ruff and Helen Wilson. Jeff Brown followed on with a fine flugelhorn solo and then there was lots of drums and percussion from Scott Chapman and Dave Elliott.
Scott’s brushwork set Callum Au’s Flinders And Trim in motion at a brisk pace. It’s a relatively quiet piece with a very attractive tune: the solos came from Lucas Dodd and Alex Plaxton and there was a drum break from Scott to end it.
You’d Think I’d Learn was the first vocal of the afternoon and it was sung delightfully by the band’s latest recruit Noemi Nuti. She sang the verse with just Andy’s piano accompaniment before the tempo changed up a gear or so for the chorus and we heard a solo from Lucas. Noemi followed up with ‘a world premiere’. The Girl You Almost Love is a product of Oxford University: lyricist Ed Randall and composer Callum Au are – or were – fellow students there. There was a slow, languorous opening which suited the subject perfectly. There was a lot of trombone playing, as you would expect from one of Callum’s scores and, once again, Lucas played an alto solo.
Another of Callum’s scores – Bustance – followed. It was a feature for Barry Clements’ brilliant bass trombone playing but Callum did find space for solos from Alex and Sandy Suchodolski. Next, it was Emma Smith‘s turn at the vocal mike with Finding My Feet. There was a noisy opening eight bars before Emma started and she was helped out with a couple of solos from Ollie Nezahti and Mark Perry. Looking Back started very slowly, with the full ensemble, then there was change of pace to a more vigorous tempo when the saxophones were featured; it reverted to the slow tempo for Emma’s vocal.
Bill Ashton‘s early school days (with perhaps also a nod to Count Basie) were the inspiration for The Kids From Red House. Remarkably, this was the name of both of the schools attended by Bill and his wife Kay: one of them was on the west coast – Blackpool – and the other on the east coast – Middlesbrough. The tune was played today because it’s a feature for two flautists and, with David (far left) and Helen (near left), we had two very fine specimens of the breed in the band. It’s a fast, cheerful tune and the arrangement gave us every chance to admire two very different approaches to flute playing.
The second half started with a request for Matt Wates’ fast and furious Never The Twain. It was a feature for the two alto players – Ollie and Lucas. Very enjoyable! Another of Callum’s compositions followed, the lyrical Are We Nearly There Yet? After the gentle piano introduction we heard a lot from the superb saxophone section and a couple of solos from Jon Russell and Ollie. Then it was time for two more songs from Emma (left): Dick Walter’s Over And Over Again and Bill Ashton’s Getting Used To You. On the first one Emma’s super singing was accompanied by the rhythm section and the saxophones and on the second there was a gentle guitar intro and a couple of solos from David and Ollie.
Then we had a request from Rob Greenwood: he wanted to hear the trombones, so they played Lisson Groove – music by Evan Jolly, title by Freddie Gavita. There was a whole chorus from the section and then Alex played the trombone solo. There was a prolonged section for the percussionists before it came to an end. The presence of the two flautists prompted the performance of something else which the band hadn’t played for a very long time, Martin Williams’ Neale’s Yard, which he wrote for ex-NYJO flautist Alison Neale many years ago. There was a bright noisy opening at medium tempo by the whole band before we heard the flutes duetting and then soloing. There was an interlude for the drums and percussion before the duetting flautists ended it.
David Foster’s It’s Good To Walk, another one the band hasn’t played in a long time, is played at a medium tempo with plenty of volume. There was a duet from Alex and Tom Stone then the rest of the saxophones joined in while the trumpeters clapped on the off-beat. Alex, Tom Stone and Sandy then each had solos and it ended with Alex and Tom Stone duetting.
I Was Hoping was Noemi’s final song, helped along by solos from Tom Walsh and Ollie. The concert ended with Emma singing Don’t Go To Her at a frantic pace and with lots of “scatting”, ably assisted by Bill and helped out with a solo from Tom Stone – a suitably upbeat ending for a tremendous concert.
Review: Ted Gascoigne : Photos: Bill Ashton