|Members of Jazzcotech and the Windsor and Pearson Big Bands, Clare Teal, James Pearson, Vula Malinga, GrantWindsor
Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou
Prom 30. Battle of the Bands.
(Royal Albert Hall. 8th August 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
Last night was a special event, a battle between two fictitious big bands with their ethereal pop-up brands, the “Duke Windsor Big Band” and the “Count Pearson Big Band”, representing the Basie and Ellington leanings. The promenaders in the arena were dancing. People in the seats and the boxes were feeling the itch in their feet and wanting to get down there. As a marketing exploit, it had worked: the Royal Albert Hall was packed.
What worked best musically were the Ellington charts, in fact the contrast between the two styles brought to the fore quite how sustaining and nourishing Ellington’s music is. Mood Indigo, a feature for Howard McGill on warm, chalumeau register clarinet was one among many highlights.
But, I couldn’t help thinking, there was an unspoken elephant stalking the Royal Albert Hall last night. Yes, we may live in an age when everything is event-driven, where the pop-up economy, nowism, planned spontaneity rule. But what we heard last night was the class, the unique heritage of British big band playing at its best, and one band in particular, the nearly half-century-old BBC Big Band.
|Jazzcotech Dancers. Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou|
There they all were. In Futile Frustration there was the massive warmth of Gordon Campbell‘s trombone sound recalling Don Lusher. Across the stage were two lead trumpets recalling Kenny Baker and Eddie Blair, in the burnished sounds of Mike Lovatt and Tom Walsh. There were some quite glorious sounds coming out of those bands. Robert Fowler‘s tough tenor sound was mightily impressive.
Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou
There was also encouragement to be had from the fact that young players, heirs to the tradition were in evidence. Alongside Fowler was (probably?) the youngest member of the band Leo Richardson. Alongside Gordon Campbell was Callum Au. The two bass players Chris Hill and Calum Gourlay (replacing Sam Burgess) both brought vigour to their lines. The permanent structures may get dismantled, but somehow, miraculously, the big band ecology survives, the spirit remains, the flame burns quite incredibly bright.
|Clare Teal. Photo credit : BBC/ Chris Christodoulou|
The proceedings were hosted faultlessly, with energy, entertainment and a tongue-in-cheek script, by Clare Teal, who also sang Moon Nocturne with a beautifully sustained line, creating a moment when slow-dancing couples right across the arena connected in the half-light. Gregory Porter was also strong, and absolutely on the button, particularly in Going to Chicago Blues, when Johnny Hartmann was right there in the house. Vula Malinga had her moments, and addicts of R&B melisma won’t have had a problem.
Who won the battle? (Drum roll. Spoiler). You guessed: both. The audience was/is/will be there for jazz. An enjoyable night.
Prom 30 is on iPlayer and will be televised on BBC Four at 7pm on 17th August.
UPDATE: SET LIST FOR PROM 30
BASIE: Rockin’ the Blues
BASIE: Every Tub
BASIE: Blue Skies (Vula Malinga)
ELLINGTON: Daybreak Express
ELLINGTON: Cotton Tail
ELLINGTON: Jump for Joy (Gregory Porter)
BASIE: 9:20 Special
BASIE: One O’clock Jump
BASIE: Moon Nocturne (Clare Teal)
ELLINGTON: Mood Indigo
ELLINGTON: Stomp Look and Listen
BASIE: Futile Frustration
BASIE: Going to Chicago Blues (Gregory Porter)
ELLINGTON: Rockin’ In Rhythm
ELLINGTON:Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Vula Malinga)
BASIE: Jumpin’ at the Woodside
ELLINGTON: Take the A Train
BASIE & ELLINGTON: Medley Royal: It Don’t Mean a Thing, Moten Swing, Mooche, Oh Lady be Good, C Jam Blues, Flat Foot Floogie, Caravan, Tickle Toe
CLARE TEAL vocalist/presenter
GREGORY PORTER vocalist
VULA MALINGA vocalist
COUNT PEARSON PROMS BAND
James Pearson piano/leader
Mike Lovatt lead trumpet
Tom Rees Roberts trumpet 2
Freddie Gavita trumpet 3
Martin Shaw trumpet 4
Gordon Campbell lead trombone
Callum Au trombone 2
Ashley Horton trombone 3
John Higginbotham bass trombone
Colin Skinner alto saxophone 1
Sam Mayne alto saxophone 2
Leo Richardson tenor saxophone 1
Rob Fowler tenor saxophone 2
Gemma Moore baritone saxophone
Colin Oxley guitar
Calum Gourlay bass
Ed Richardson drums
DUKE WINDSOR PROMS BAND
Grant Windsor piano/MD
Craig Wild lead trumpet
Andy Greenwood trumpet 2
Tom Walsh trumpet 3
Guy Barker trumpet 4
Nichol Thompson lead trombone
Winston Rollins trombone 2
Andy Flaxman trombone 3
Mark Frost bass trombone
Howard McGill alto saxophone 1
Mark Crooks alto saxophone 2
Ben Castle tenor saxophone 1
James Gardiner-Bateman tenor saxophone 2
Alex Garnett baritone saxophone
Mitch Dalton guitar
Chris Hill bass
Matt Skelton drums