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Review: Gene Krupa Centenary Tribute/ Cadogan Hall

Gene Krupa (1909-1973)

There wasn’t really any need for kitchen performance anxiety tonight. One of the cast-iron certainties in British jazz is that a band directed by Pete Long will cook.

This remarkable phenomenon generally known among musicians as Plong, this hyper-active multi-reedsman, in whom Croydon, I am told, is mysteriously inflected with a possible hint of Malta, has led successful Ellington projects,riotously good Dizzy Gillespie projects, and much else besides. Long knows his craft, he delivers meticulously edited parts onto the stands. He bandleads and MC’s for Britain.

Thus there were many great moments tonight, when not only the sound, but also the visuals were totally convincing. Pete Long was shuffling around in a burgundy tail-suit, on clarinet, in charge. Enrico Tomasso was alongside him, squeezing blistering high notes out of the trumpet, his whole face rapidly becoming a perfect colour-match for Long’s suit. Joan Viskant was finding the vocal colours of her – and also Krupa’s – home town of Chicago circa 1940.Period-style specialist Martin Wheatley on guitar was being subtly and predictably flawless. In the background the microphone stands suspended over drummer Richard Pite’s head were dancing in time. And the audience of several hundred at Cadogan Hall were showing how much they were enjoying it by whistling, whooping and cheering at the end of just about every number.

But there were uncertainties, mainly about the format. Both Pete Long and Richard Pite expressed their doubts as to whether the attempt to cram of the whole jazz life of Gene Krupa into a couple of hours could actually succeed. It was a tough ask, even allowing for Richard Pite’s knowledge of, and enthusiasm for Krupa, his strong musicianship, and his antics at the drum kit. Sometimes we risked being deluged with dates, entrances and exits, criss-cross references to the period being re-created. Announcement culture, bad enough in London Transport, should never be allowed to capture the soul of a swing band as fine as this.

Because this music can, and tonight really did, speak for itself. A sentiment for which Pete Long found exactly the right adage: “If this doesn’t turn you on, you ain’t got a switch.”

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