London Jazz Festival Review (20) Benny Goodman Quartet and Beyond

After You’ve Gone: The Benny Goodman Quartet and Beyond
Purcell Room, part of London Jazz Festival, November 20th 2010, review by Alyn Shipton)

One aspect of several of the concerts I’ve managed to get to at this year’s London Jazz Festival is that they’ve been good fun. Across the stylistic spectrum, introspective beard-stroking and head nodding has given way to broad grins and foot-tapping. But few events have had quite so much uninhibited joy as Richard Pite‘s Jazz Repertory Company paying tribute to the four members of the Benny Goodman Quartet. As well as Pite’s extrovert, Krupa-esque drumming, Pete Long (clarinet-above left with tenor sax), Colin Goode (piano) and Alan Grahame (vibes) stomped through a fine selection of the quartet repertoire, before turning their attention to music made independently by each of the original participants. Joan Viskant (above right) sang her way elegantly through some of the Billie Holiday / Teddy Wilson classics, and although Long seemed to be grappling with the intonation of his tenor on “Mean To Me”, the band cleverly evoked the spirit of those 1930s sessions, as they also did with some lively blowing on the Hampton small group material.

Where the concert really moved up a gear from very good to excellent was in the Gene Krupa section. Rico Tomasso and Joan Viskant mugged their way through “Drop Me Off Uptown” with some fiery Eldridge-style trumpet from Tomasso. Then Richard Pite’s flair for capturing Krupa’s show-biz tricks came to the fore. He hammered deftly on the strings of Jerome Davies ‘s bass on “Big Noise from Winnetka” , turned in a solo that involved juggling his sticks, then throwing them up high in the air and catching them in time to come thundering in on the down beat, and rounded it all off by playing a solo on a matchbox with matchsticks that finally (almost) burst into flame. When hokum is combined with fine musicianship, the whole experience becomes even more good humoured.

By the end of the Krupa-focused numbers, the audience was in party mood, and the final Goodman sextet pieces with Martin Wheatley ‘s vintage electric guitar emulating the authentic sound of Charlie Christian , saw everybody off happily into the dusk. It is to the Festival’s credit that it finds a place for traditional and mainstream jazz in its programme. and when it is as well played as this, and such straightforward fun into the bargain, it all adds to what has been one of the most enjoyable of recent London Jazz Festivals.

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