The Band: Bill Ashton directing Chris Eldred (piano): Sandy Sucholdolski (bass guitar); Rob Luft (guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); James Larter (percussion); Mark Perry, Jeremy Fry, Tom Walsh, Evan Clegg (trumpets); Barry Trent, Alex Paxton, Callum Au, Pete Whitehouse (tenor trombones), Barry Clements (bass trombone); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Lucas Dodd & Simon Marsh (altos), Mike Wilkins & Tom Stone (tenors), Ben Mallinder (baritone); Sîan Lewis (flute). Neomi Nuti & Emma Smith did the singing.
The Music: U-Turn (Steve Titchener) : Jack Of Hearts : Infinite Improbability Drive (Callum Au) : Honeysuckle Chris (Fats Waller, arr. Mark Armstrong) : No Moon At All (v) (Redd Evans/David Mann, arr. Dave Foster) : I Was Hoping (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. John Clark) : A Nightingale Swang (Eric Maschwitz/Manning Sherwin, arr. Mark Armstrong) : The Nelson Touch (v) (Bill Ashton/Alec Gould, arr. Alec Gould) : Looking Back (v) (Christine Denmead/Derek Goome, arr. Mark Nightingale ) : Somewhat Refined Samba (Mark Nightingale) : Almost There (Anthony Adams) : Brush Up Your Brakspears (Evan Jolly) : Where Is The Music? (v) (Jack Long/Keith Kitchen, arr. Chris Smith) : Much Too Much (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Chris Smith) : Hot & Sweaty (Martin Williams) : You’d Think I’d Learn (v) (Bill Ashton & Christine Denmead, arr. Josh Daniels)
The Gig: Fresh from celebrating NYJO’s 45th anniversary at the 100 Club the previous weekend, without further ado the latest incarnation of this remarkable band swung into action at The Manor with Steve Titchener’s rapid U-Turn: an extended piano trio intro gave way to a sax section soli statement of the theme before Tom Stone (nice to see him back in the line-up!) and Mark Perry took the solos.
Jack Of Hearts, a beautiful ballad, gave Tom Walsh (left) a flighty front-mic flugel feature before the band went into overdrive with Callum Au’s latest: Infinite Improbability Drive is a funky, fun piece, with its drum ‘n’ bass (plus electric piano) intro leading into some lovely band writing for muted trumpets: Callum and Lucas Dodd took the solos. Some years ago NYJO’s Music Director Mark Armstrong arranged Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose as a finger-busting feature for whoever was the piano chair incumbent of the day; it’s current title reflects Chris Eldred’s long and sterling service with the band.
Neomi Nuti (right) first sang here with NYJO earlier in the year – since then she has noticeably increased in confidence, as her assured reading of the standard No Moon At All demonstrated: a softly swinging introduction, with just Sandy Sucholdolski’s bass accompanying the vocal led into a vibes solo for James Larter and later a tenor solo for Tom Stone. Rob Luft’s guitar and James’s vibes provided a nicely downbeat coda.
Neomi’s second number was Bill Ashton’s optimistic I Was Hoping, arranged by the late John Clark: Tom Walsh and Mark provided the trumpet solos, whilst Neomi threw in a bit of scat singing part way through.
Mark Armstrong’s lovely arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’, which he calls A Nightingale Swang… had the sax section providing the intro, eventually being joined by the initially muted, then open, trombones over Scott Chapman’s subtle brushwork. Muted, then open, trumpets entered the mix before Callum and Lucas provided the solos. The brass then did some contrapuntal stuff before the big ensemble finish, leavened by Scott’s drums and some trumpet high-notes from Tom Walsh.
Emma Smith (right) chose a rarely-heard Alec Gould number – The Nelson Touch – for her first vocal of the afternoon, following it with a lovely interpretation of Looking Back. Ex-NYJO trombonist Mark Nightingale’s arrangement opened with some subtle trumpet and trombone writing before Emma’s vocal, over the soft backing of Rob’s guitar and James’s vibes, segued into a double time sax soli – delightful stuff!
Mark Nightingale also arranged Quinto Do Largo which, as its translated title suggests, is a Somewhat Refined Samba feature for trombones; Callum and Pete Whitehouse had solos and duetted during the first part, whilst Pete and Alex Paxton had solos towards the end.
Rob had a guitar feature on Anthony Adams’ oft-exposed Almost There before the band exhorted everyone to Brush Up Your Brakspears, Evan Jolly’s paean to the eponymous Buckinghamshire brew. Mark, Simon Marsh, Callum and James on vibes each had solos on this unusual jazz waltz.
Well before Emma was born her dad, ex-NYJO trumpeter Chris Smith, wrote an arrangement for Jack Long’s and Keith Kitchen’s Where Is The Music?, which Emma recalled hearing when she was very young and vowing never to sing because it always made her laugh… Bill can be persuasive though, so today Emma gave it a go. An a capella vocal and piano intro, with some pretty flute interjections from Sîan Lewis, led into the slow rock main section, during which Lucas took a blistering alto solo, before the vocal, piano and flute coda. It’s a great song, although we probably won’t be hearing Emma singing it again…
Chris Smith also arranged Emma’s next number, the superbly swinging Much Too Much, which opens with just the vocal over a bass line before storming into full big band action; Alex took the only solo. Talking of full big band action, ex-NYJO saxophonist Martin Williams’ Hot & Sweaty does just what it says on the lead chart, this fast-paced swinger being a rollicking raunchy workout for all the sax section, both collectively and individually – superb!
Neomi brought this month’s proceedings to an upbeat close with a joyful interpretation of Christine Denmead’s You’d Think I’d Learn, to which Lucas added another of his trademark alto solos.
When NYJO are on this sort of form it’s easy to appreciate why the band has lasted for the best part of half a century in its various incarnations – and, if the quality of the young musicians joining NYJO in the future continues to be as high, there’s no reason to think that the band won’t still be going 50 years from now…
Review: Steve Harris/Ian Fielding : Photos: Bill Ashton/Alan Tagg