Louis & The Duke In London
(Cadogan Hall. Sunday, 24 November 2013 – LJF. Review by Peter Vacher)
Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company has cornered the market for large-scale celebratory excursions into past jazz history. Remember their successful replication of Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert? This time round, it was two fanfares in one, the first half reprising Louis Armstrong’s ground-breaking appearance [with his ‘New Rhythm Band’] at the London Palladium in July 1932, this followed eleven months later by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra, also making their European début at the same venue. Oddly perhaps, a certain Max Miller, by 1933 known as the ‘Cheeky Chappie’, was on both bills.
And yes, it was true that both these visiting jazz luminaries were cast as variety artists, appearing with a mixed bag of comics, jugglers and the like, this the result of musician union and Ministry of Labour stipulations then current. All of which was explained in Russell Davies’s sure-footed introductory narrative before the music got underway. That this was in the hands of Keith Nichols ensured authenticity but history also generated the idea that the concert proceedings should recall some of these long-gone variety artists. Thus we had a juggler, a Max Miller clone, a shake dancer, a drum routine, a ukulele act and most amusing of all, the sight of Richard Pite’s burly figure encoiled in a sousaphone, playing the Hungarian Dance no 5 alternately on this mammoth brass instrument and on a tiny piccolo fished out from a pocket. Oh well.
That some of these antics failed to fully engage with this SRO but essentially staid audience is of little consequence for the music accomplished much, most notably via Enrico Tomasso’s brilliant recreations of the Louis repertoire. Not sure that his Satchmo-style vocals and attempts at Louis’s prowling stage presence added much though nor that Davies’s transition into a 1930s style interlocutor worked either. This very much in contrast to Nicholl’s avuncular and witty handling of the second-half announcements as his Blues Devils dealt lovingly with the 1933 Ellington material, Julia Biel adding vocal lustre, the 13-piece band, highlighting Tomasso again and fellow-trumpeters George Hogg and Peter Horsfall, all impressively spirited. Just to hear them play ‘The New Black and Tan Fantasy’ was a joy.