The Band: Bill Ashton directing Conor Chaplin (bass guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); James Larter (percussion); Chris Eldred (keyboard); Jon Russell (guitar); Jeff Green, Rob Greenwood, Tom Walsh, Laura Jurd, Henry Armburg-Jennings (trumpets); Barry Clements (bass trombone), Alex Paxton, Callum Au, Ross Anderson, Charlie Valentine (tenor trombones); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Lucas Dodd & Ollie Nazhati (altos), Richard Shepherd & Will Gibson (tenors), Ben Mallinder (baritone); Jenna Smart (flute). Emma Smith (right) & Kwabena Adjepong did the singing.
The Music: When You’re Ready (Evan Jolly) : The Good Life (Sacha Distel) : La Muchacha de Colombia (Martin Williams) : A Nightingale Swang (Maschwitz & Sherwin, arr. Mark Armstrong) : It’s All Right With Me (v) (Cole Porter, arr. Sam Nestico) : I Wish You Love (v) (Charles Trenet, arr Callum Au) : Port Au Prince (Callum Au) : I Was Hoping (v) (Ashton & Clarke) : You’d Think I’d Learn (v) (Bill Ashton & Christine Denmead, arr. Josh Daniels) : Don’t Mention The Blues (Mark Armstrong) : Abigail (Mark Armstrong) : Tears In Rain (Mark Armstrong) : No Moon At All (v) (Evans & Manne, arr. Dave Foster) : Angel Eyes (v) (Matt Dennis & Earl Brent, arr. Callum Au) : Barker Is Willing (Callum Au) : I Love The Girl Who Can’t Show Love To Me (v) (Tim Hopkins, arr. Callum Au) : Morning Glories (v) (arr. Evan Jolly). [(v) are the vocals]
The Gig: The band was full of familiar faces to-day and the only late arrival was bass guitarist Conor Chaplin, so Jon Russell ‘depped’ on bass for the first set.
The concert started with the irrepressible Evan Jolly’s When You’re Ready, a lovely swinging tune, which started with the muted trumpets stating the theme. There was a string of solos from Lucas Dodd, Tom Walsh (muted trumpet), Richard Shepherd, Henry Armburg-Jennings (open trumpet), Lucas again and Tom again, but without the mute. Sacha Distel’s The Good Life followed, with some glorious tenor saxophone playing from the incomparable Richard. Lucas led the saxes on his soprano for this one.
Martin Williams’ legacy, La Muchacha…, was next – always a great favourite, not least, I suspect, because of the opportunity to hear some splendid bass-trombone playing; Barry Clements was the obliging virtuoso to-day. Lucas, Alex Paxton and the elegant Laura Jurd (right) played the solos before the “bangers and crashers” (Scott Chapman & James Larter) took over for the orgy of percussion which is at the heart of this composition.
For some reason, which I’ve never heard explained, Mark Armstrong’s lovely arrangement of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square is called A Nightingale Swang. It’s played at a leisurely, beguiling tempo and Jeff Green, Callum Au and Lucas played the solos this time around. I noticed that Callum has adopted the habit of pushing the bell of his instrument right over the microphone – it makes a strange noise. I saw – and heard – Buster Cooper doing the same thing at the Ellington Conference in 2008 and he sounded even worse!
Kwabena Adjepong (left) was the first singer of the afternoon, with Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me. It was a nice, singer friendly, Sam Nestico arrangement, sung with masterly ease by Kwabena. There was a lovely solo from Chris Eldred at the keyboard. Another French ballad, Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love was next, in another of Callum’s arrangements. Richard was the instrumental soloist and there was some nice scoring for the flutes, which had the band sounding like the Sauter-Finegan band.
The next one was an instrumental composition from Callum called Port Au Prince. It started with a lovely keyboard introduction from Chris and the performance included a couple of fine solos from Callum and Lucas. The first half ended with two songs from Emma Smith: the first was I Was Hoping, in which she indulged in some vocalese in harmony with the saxophone section. Henry, Ollie Nazhati and Chris played the instrumental solos. Emma’s second song was You’d Think I’d Learn – she started off with the verse, accompanied by just Chris at the keyboard, and after the first chorus we were treated to another solo from Lucas on alto.
Conor arrived during the interval so we had a full rhythm section for the second half, with Jon forsaking the bass and returning to his proper guitar. I’d like to tell you what they started the second half with but unfortunately Bill Ashton didn’t mention it. (That’s because it is called Don’t Mention The Blues, Ted! – SH/IF). All I can tell you is that it featured Callum (left) on trombone.
The second number was Mark Armstrong’s Abigail, in which the flute is well to the fore. It has a Latin-American flavour and we were treated to some of Jon’s impeccable guitar playing for the first time in the concert. Henry contributed a delightful flugelhorn solo and this was followed by lots drums and percussion.
Another of Mark’s compositions followed: Tears In Rain is a quotation from a film called Blade Runner – “…all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain, time to die…” It’s a very attractive ballad and featured Will Gibson on tenor. It started with the saxophones and flutes and there was some clever scoring which had the section simulating the sound of raindrops. Chris finished it off with a keyboard coda.
Emma came back to the vocal mic for two more songs: No Moon At All and Angel Eyes, apparently one of Bill’s favourite songs. Dave Foster did the arrangement of the first one back in 2002, when we were about to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It’s a great chart and always worth listening to. There was a bass guitar introduction from Conor and solos from Jeff (flugelhorn) and Richard. I didn’t enjoy the second one so I won’t comment on it.
Barker Is Willing was written for Ed Barker, who has now left the band because he’s reached the ripe old age of twenty five and so it’s been handed over to Lucas. It’s one of Callum’s noisier compositions and everybody enjoyed it. There was some fine keyboard playing from Chris, and Jon was well to fore with his guitar. But the main solo was played by Lucas, with lots of off-beat hand-clapping accompaniment from the band.
The concert ended with two songs from Kwabena: I Love The Girl Who Can’t Love Me (probably the longest title of any arrangement in the band’s library!) is a very nice ballad. I have my reservations about the subject of the lyric but, nevertheless, I enjoyed Will’s (left) tenor solo.
The last one was the joyous Morning Glories, which sent everybody on their separate ways with smiles on their faces.
Review: Ted Gascoigne Photos: Alan Tagg/Bill Ashton