The Band: Bill Ashton directing Chris Eldred (piano): Sandy Sucholdolski (bass guitar); Rob Luft (guitar); Scott Chapman (drums); Dave Elliott (percussion); Mark Perry, Tom Syson, Louis Dowdeswell, Nick Meal (trumpets); Ross Andeson, Pete Whitehouse, Chris Valentine (tenor trombones), Barry Clements (bass trombone); Anna Drysdale (French horn); saxophones: Johnny Griffith & Simon Marsh (altos), Nadim Teimori & Tom Stone (tenors), Michael Underwood (baritone); Helen Wilson (flute). Sarah Ellen Hughes (right) was the guest vocalist.
The Music: Cannon Fodder (Alan Ganley) : Putney Vale (Tom Stone, arr. Callum Au) : La Muchacha Do Colombia (Martin Williams) : Are We Nearly There Yet? (Callum Au) : Looking Back (v) (Derek Goom/Bill Ashton, arr. Mark Nightingale) : Looking Forward (v) (Bill Ashton, arr. Evan Jolly) : Groove Rider (Gareth Lockrane) : Unison In All Things (Andy Panayi) : Return Flight (Tom Stone ) : Neale’s Yard (Martin Williams) : Sweet London Bridge : Bustance (Callum Au) : Here’s That Rainy Day (Johnny Burke/Jimmy Van Heusen, arr. Phil Woods) : No Moon At All (v) (David A Mann/Redd Evans, arr. Dave Foster) : I Have Been Here Before (v) (Christine Denmead/Alec Gould) : Heat Of The Moment (v) (Bill Ashton/Dick Walter, arr. Dick Walter)
The Gig: The final NYJO gig at The Manor before Christmas was notable for a one-off return to the vocal chair, after an absence of nearly 21/2 years, of Sarah Ellen Hughes – standing in for the absent Emma Smith and shamelessly promoting her own big band première here at the beginning of December! The session itself was the usual mix of numbers written especially for the band, either by alumni or current players, a smattering of standards and a selection of bespoke songs by Bill Ashton and his regular roster of writers.
The concert started with the late Allan Ganley’s Cannon Fodder. It’s a tribute to Cannonball Adderley but, oddly, there are no solos for the altos: today’s came from the tenors of Tom Stone (right) and Nadim Teimori, and Mark Perry’s trumpet. Tom Stone also had a couple of his own compositions in the concert: Putney Vale, a languorous ballad, in which his long and absorbing solo, played initially with just the rhythm section, eventually had the backing of the full band. We were also treated to a solo from Rob Luft’s guitar. Return Flight featured Rob and Mark together during the intro – Mark, Tom Stone and Scott Chapman provided the solos.
Ex- NYJO tenor man Martin Williams contributed a couple of numbers to the proceedings: La Muchacha Do Colombia is an oft-played favourite of the band, on which Nadim and Mark had some further solo exposure, whilst Scott and percussionist Dave Elliott enjoyed the tune’s signature drum/percussion dialogue towards the end.
Martin’s second number, Neale’s Yard, was a sprightly tune he’d originally written for ex-NYJO flautist Alison Neale. Today it was a feature for Helen Wilson on flute, initially playing the melody duetting with her bloke Dave on vibes, then giving us a virtuoso solo and finally performing in a threesome with Dave and Scott – cracking stuff!
There was also a brace of scores from Callum Au: a clone of Anthony Adams’s Almost There, entitled Are We Nearly There Yet? was a gentle ballad which featured Rob on guitar throughout – it’s a very attractive tune and Johnny Griffiths helped out with an alto solo. The second was the more rumbustious Bustance, which was a feature for Barry Clements’ brilliant bass trombone playing and also included a particularly intricate sax section soli.
Ex-NYJO flautist Gareth Lockrane’s classic Groove Rider gave Ross Anderson his first solo knock – Scott, Helen (left) and Rob also got to demonstrate their solo prowess – whilst former NYJO tenor man Andy Panayi’s arrangement of Jerome Kern’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s All The Things You Are, which he called Unison In All Things (because, when he wrote it, NYJO was being sponsored by the Unison trade union), featured solos from Johnny and Nadim as well as Chris Eldred and Rob.
Phil Woods’ arrangement of that well-known jazz standard, Here’s That Rainy Day, was a feature for the alto of Simon Marsh who gave a languid reading of this delightful ballad supported by the band floating on a bed of Scott’s subtle brushwork – just delightful!
Sarah Ellen’s vocal contributions were remarkable for the fact that, despite the fact that someone (no names, etc.) had forgotten to bring the vocal pad, she was able to re-create her five-number guest set entirely from memory…Looking Forward and Looking Back are two of Bill’s songs which Sarah Ellen said she’d always thought of as a pair – the first being about ‘New Love’ and the second, starting with the last five notes of the first, about ‘Old Love’. She sang them beautifully, albeit in the wrong order! The sax section had a soli in ‘Back’ and Chris provided a tasteful piano introduction for ‘Forward’.
Her assured reading of No Moon At All demonstrated just how much Sarah Ellen has developed since last singing with NYJO. With just Sandy Sucholdolski’s bass accompanying the vocal, the softly swinging introduction developed with some vibes accompaniment from Dave before Tom Stone took the tenor solo. I Have Been Here Before is a quintessentially bittersweet Christine Denmead song, to which Sarah Ellen bought just the right amount of knowing angst, while Ross provided a suitably poignant trombone counterpoint.
Sarah Ellen wrapped up with a classy rendition of that great Dick Walter swinger, Heat Of The Moment, that showed her at the top of her form. A sexy duet intro with Chris’s piano, complete with finger snaps, and a confident negotiation of the complex vocalese passage showed complete control of the material – and Johnny’s alto solo and Tom Stone’s lyrical tenor solo just provided the icing on a very special cake…
Review: Steve Harris/Ian Fielding : Photos: Bill Ashton