REVIEW: Buddy Rich Big Band at Ronnie Scotts

The Buddy Rich Big Band
Image and file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ carlhyde.com ©2017

Buddy Rich Big Band
(Ronnie Scotts 22 May 2017, first night of residency, first house. Review by Frank Griffith)

The centenary of Buddy Rich’s birth (30 September 1917) has brought his band to Ronnie Scott’s for a six-night stand until Saturday, 27 May. The band played regularly at the club regularly during the 1970s until 1986 not long before the Rich’s untimely passing in April of 1987 at the age of 69. This included the recording two LPs, Rich in London (1972) and The Man From Planet Jazz (1980) the first of which featured Rich’s daughter, Cathy, who hosted tonight’s show. She revived That’s Enough which she sang with Jon Hendricks and his two daughters all those years ago in her set. Upon entering the stage she explained how emotional it was for her to be returning to the club after so many years in her father’s 100th year,  but quickly got down to business opening with The Beat Goes On which she originally recorded in the late 1960s with the band –  at the age of twelve!

The largely British band did the music and Buddy proud with a ninety minute set broken into two parts. The first part featured Cathy’s husband, Gregg Potter, who got things warmed up nicely with his smooth and quite visual drumming as well as somewhat lighthearted remarks to the audience between songs. After a thirty minute setup change the renowned Dave Weckl took over to escalate the proceedings into fourth and fifth gear leading up to what was a big finish. A set that would have poleaxed a lesser band as the brass section had their work cut out for them in terms of endurance alone but prevailed heroically.

Many soloists rose to the occasion to excite and burnish the crowd with their powerful improvisations. These include trumpeter, Simon Gardner, who combined his fluid hard bop melodies with stunning flashes of high notery that impressed indeed. The powerful and sinuous trombone flightery of Mark Nightingale‘s solos held his own in the lower brass as did the relentlessly steaming “paid by the note” tenor sax solos of Nigel Hitchcock who for my money took top honours for the blowing Baftas of the night. Not to be outdone, the blustery and bluesy alto sax excursions of Bob Bowlby offered a welcome change to the aforementioned hard bopsters angularisms with his sound and phrasing more reminiscent of the late Gene Quill. Pianist Matt Harris brought a bit of calm and repose to the proceedings with his reflective solos allowing the temperature to cool somewhat before the next onslaught of heat crept in to beat the band.

Incidentally, Bowlby, Harris and Scotsman, baritone saxist, Jay Craig, were veterans of the last band that Buddy fielded in 1986.

Special plaudits to bassist Laurence Cottle, a fixture on the UK recording and jazz scene for his handling of the bass chair while linking up so well with not one but two drummers. UK big band fans will no doubt be aware of Cottles’ stunning big band which he is also chief composer and arranger for. They have played at Ronnie’s on many occasions as well. I would reckon that his intimate knowledge of the big band as a player, leader and writer allows him to bring much to the table in “driving the bus” so effortlessly.

Cathy Rich and Gregg Potter
Image &/ file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ carlhyde.com ©2017

Drummer Dave Weckl’s command of the idiom was spellbinding and carried off in such an effortless way, to boot. He also spoke lovingly of Rich as well as pointing out that as a young drummer, Buddy was one of his main inspirations and how honoured he was having the opportunity help carry on the legacy.

The high point for me was on the set closer Love For Sale (arranged by Brit, Pete Myers) which began with an unaccompanied drum solo. It eased into it demurely enough slowly building up to a suitable temperature for the band to enter with Cole Porter’s spacious theme. This was followed by two brief but blinding solos by Bowlby (alto sax) and Gardner (trumpet) after which Weckl moved quickly over to the “right lane” and single handedly pummelled both the band and audience into bad health for the two remaining choruses. At times one was convinced that his four limbs had doubled into eight with the complexity of his multi metre fills amongst his deep dish swing that prevailed to the MGM level big climax at the chart’s end. A tour de force that could only be followed by a break and long lie down for all.

A super, super night. Buddy at 100. Who could ask for more.

The entire run of shows is sold out, but cancellations/ returns are sometimes available.

Categories: miscellaneous

6 replies »

  1. Just got back from Saturdays first house performance truly amazing, the legend lives on. Many thanks to Cathy and all the band, it brought back many happy memories of the bands heyday, Buddy was looking down with pride.

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