|“Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band”
Photo credit: Roger Thomas
“A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band” / Tim Whitehead and Kenny Wheeler
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, part of “Best of British Jazz” sequence. And Purcell Room, both concerts Southbank Centre 25th July 2011)
The two concerts were a major retrospective entitled “A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band” in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, running at exactly the same time that one of the major creative talents of our time, Kenny Wheeler, was making his first apearance as guest with Tim Whitehead ‘s “Colour Beginnings” project.
One commentator was apoplectic and went on Twitter: “Privileged few at @southbankcentre got to marvel at Tim Whitehead’s Turner tribute. Was next door to a *best of British Jazz* event……so why didn’t @southbankcentre think Tim Whitehead & Kenny Wheeler were *best*? Pah! #inexplicablemarketinggaffes”
“A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band”
There’s always a guiding spirit of gentle mischievous good humour hovering over gigs involving the Dankworth family. The first musical sound from the stage was Andy Panayi checking the reed his clarinet with the theme from Hancock’s Half Hour.
The idea behind the programme was to go back and tell some of the Dankworth story through performing pieces from different eras. The opener was one of the movements from “World Jazz Suite” (did all twelve ever get finished?).
This was a stunningly good big band. Just about every player in it is a bandleader in his or her own right. You’d go a long way to hear a better sax section : Tim Garland, Jamie Talbot, Andy Panayi, Julian Siegel and Karen Sharp. Dankworth writes punishingly for saxes. The trumpets made the most of his typically bright sound he requires. They were on form, if not ideally balanced, from my seat.
The big band then gave way to one of the key groups, the Dankworth Seven. Two of its original members – Tony Kinsey (his drum chair occupied by the impeccable Ian Thomas – and Eddie Harvey – represented by Mark Nightingale on trombone – were in the audience. Musically Alec Dankworth was in charge, standards were high.
Photo credit: Roger Thomas
There were surprises (for me), notably how readily Tim Garland was able to roll back the clock and play pure 1950’s tenor. And high points: a hushed decelerando ending to Ellington’s Mood Indigo featuring Henry Lowther wonderfully mellifluous on trumpet. The applause from the end of that number was starting to wane when the it startedto grow again, suddenly and more insistently, as Dame Cleo Laine made a particularly well-timed entrance.
Tim Whitehead’s “Colour Beginnings Quartet with guest Kenny Wheeler
Tim Whitehead’s artistic responses to Turner are personal, often paradoxical, always deply thought. Some of the heavier grooves come in (surprising) response to pictures where Turner has hardly alowed the paint and water to come into contact with the paper. Whitehead intersperses the pieces with a wide range of different perspectives on Turner’s life and work from art critics and contemporaries. Some of the numbers involve him singing – wordlessly – rather than playing. But there is a strong and thought-through aesthetic in what Tim Whitehead is doing. He has dwelt on, thought, lived through the whole creative process of absorbing a cloudscape with the eyyes and mind, and then of painting. There is a high degree of integrity and authenticity about the whole venture. For example, a sudden unison passage for the whole band, an upward flurry, brought sudden urgency at the end of “Skies Sketchbook 1810s page 3.”