REVIEW: The Golden Era of Jazz (Ewan Bleach and the Cable Street Rag Band, Jamboree, Limehouse)

The Golden Era of Jazz hosted by Ewan Bleach and the Cable Street Rag Band 
(Jamboree, 2nd June 2016. Review by Naoise Murphy.)

People come to the Jamboree in Limehouse on Thursdays to dance. Coats and bags are piled carelessly into corners and the floor is filled with couples right from the start. Dedicated swing dancers in appropriately retro outfits show their appreciation throughout for a very talented band.

This was the regular weekly night of 1920s and 30s jazz, swing, rag-time and blues, hosted by Ewan Bleach and The Cable Street Rag Band. Covering jazz classics from Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, The Washboard Rhythm Kings and Bessie Smith, among others, the band conjured up the raucous, joyful atmosphere of a jazz age speakeasy in this perfectly bohemian venue.

The members of the band, Ewan Bleach (reeds, piano, vocals), Louisa Jones (bass, vocals), “Dakota” Jim Ydstie (piano, accordion, bass, vocals), John Kelly (guitar) and Will Scott (reeds), worked seamlessly together; their wide age range reflected in the eclectic audience of committed jazz enthusiasts.

Switching effortlessly from upbeat dance numbers to a slightly more relaxed, bluesy mood, the band never let their energy levels drop. They played informally but flawlessly. Certain pieces seemed to be works-in-progress, but even these had an undeniable polish, born out of the spontaneity of the musicians on stage. This casual approach added greatly to the atmosphere of the night, which culminated in an open-mic style set of consistently excellent guest musicians.

Ewan Bleach and Will Scott – The Cable Street Rag Band

Bleach’s virtuosic clarinet solos were electrifying. Leading the rest of the band, his improvisations created moments of frantic, escalating energy with incredible skill. A duet with Will Scott on saxophone was a stand-out moment. The other members of the band dropped out, leaving these two superb musicians to build to a feverish climax. Throughout the night, Bleach switched instruments rapidly, proving himself equally capable of producing plaintive soprano saxophone melodies and punchy bass saxophone support for Scott and the others.

More of the mesmerizingly soulful voice of Louisa Jones would have been welcome. For most of the night she, along with guitarist John Kelly, provided first-rate rhythmic support. Jones, Kelly and pianist Jim Ydstie kept the beat driving forward for the dancers, making the band’s lack of percussion hardly noticeable.

The Cable Street Rag Band have created a haven for London’s swing dance lovers. Their greatest success lies in their ability to keep the floor filled with swinging bodies. It was impossible to stop this band’s faithful adaptations of jazz classics resonating straight through to my toes.

Categories: miscellaneous

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