“Does it sound like music yet?” Music Director Pete Long peers out into to the darkness, in what he hopes is the direction of the sound desk. We’re halfway through the soundcheck, and the beautiful warm acoustic of Snape Maltings is not being kind to percussive funk grooves of NYJO’s ‘What is Hip?’ programme. We pare it back, we tighten, we shorten, we lighten, and an hour later, the answer is yes.
Come gig time, the hall is packed, the promming area on the floor replete with cushions, and as the lights go down and NYJO strikes up the clean open groove of Jason Yarde’s Sub Hub Hubbub it sounds…fantastic. The acoustic-dampening qualities of the concert-goers and all the band’s hard work had paid off. The ‘What is Hip?’ set is vocal-heavy, and we were treated to the entrancing mystique of Isobel Gathercole singing ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ in the style of Björk, James Hudson applying his cool crooner sound to The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’, and Ellie Bignall’s unfailingly stylish ‘My Romance’. The three vocalists then came together for a triumphant rendition of Kool & The Gang’s quirky 1976 hit ‘Open Sesame’, which also included a rare starring role for the NYJO gong.
Big brassy funk grooves were the order of the night, but the audience also welcomed the occasional swing interludes, in the shape of Ellington’s ‘Harlem Airshaft’ and Basie’s ‘L’il Darlin’, which allowed NYJO to show off a range of colour, texture and dynamics more often expected from a symphony orchestra than a jazz band. It was back up to full power though for the big finale, Tower of Power’s ‘What is Hip?’, for which MD Pete Long got the entire hall on its feet, clapping and dancing; venue staff told us this was a Snape Proms first!
At the final bows, the audience is cheering, and the band is beaming – they know they’ve played a blinder. And then to top it off, we received this tweet the next morning: “Amazing concert by @NYJOuk last night in Snape. We now have a 5 year old who wants to go to trumpet school.” Well, that sounds like music to us.