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The Big Chris Barber Band at Cadogan Hall

The Big Chris Barber Band
(Cadogan Hall, London, 13 September 2019. Review by Peter Vacher)

Bob Hunt (Publicity photo)

When Bob Hunt, the band’s trombonist and musical director, came out on stage it was to emphasize that band boss Chris Barber would not be appearing as he had formally announced his retirement. So in a nutshell this was the Barber band minus its instigator, guiding force and frontman. Audiences hadn’t always known this, Hunt said. Still, the now 89-year old Barber wanted the band to continue and so it would. At this point on came the rest of the ensemble, lined up and ready to play.

If the absence of Barber was a surprise to some in this largely senior audience, many like me bent on nostalgia, then the presence of trumpet recruit Gabriel Garrick in place of the departed Peter Rudeforth was equally unexpected. At least, to your reviewer. Garrick is a musician steeped in the history of the music, adept at many genres but largely cast as a modernist. That said, his playing here was powerful, precise and brilliantly effective, his linkages with fellow trumpeter ‘Magic’ Mike Henry immaculate, every brass figure executed to plan over that consistently swinging rhythm section.

Casting back to when I last saw the band in 2014 with markedly different personnel, there was little in the way of repertoire variation, even if the routine for something like Petite Fleur now included rather more band action and Cornbread, Peas and Molasses was played as a full-on R&B number with raunchy alto from Ian Killoran. So, a gaggle of new names in the line-up but the outcomes much as they had always been. Superb musicianship, clever variation in programming, the ensemble flexing to and fro before reverting to the original six-piece format with eloquent compere Bert Brandsma’s soaring, Ed Hall-inclined clarinet and Hunt’s vigorous trombone over the banjo-led rhythm.

Banjoist Joe Farler has been with the band an age and I have to say went a long way to resolve my antipathy to that ancient instrument, single-string solos and all. Day, Watson and Farler may sound like a set of dodgy solicitors but here they held together superbly. Every move planned, yes, the inclusion of selected pieces from Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club-era a continuing joy. Hunt’s wa-wa trombone passages were authentic and uplifting, the twin trumpets echoing in support, the sax section’s replication of the Ducal sound evocative and pleasing, Nick White perfect as Hodges. How good they were on something like Jubilee Stomp or The Mooche. Indeed, how good the entire band sounded throughout: exultant when necessary, subtle too, their sheer élan sufficient to suggest that this Barber-less show, replete with Bourbon Street Parade, Whistling Rufus, their rather wacky version of All Blues and a climactic, shout-out on …The Saints should and will run and run. © Peter Vacher

The Big Chris Barber Band: Gabriel Garrick, ‘Magic’ Mike Henry, trumpets; Bob Hunt, trombone & musical director; Nick White, baritone saxophone, alto, clarinet; Ian Killoran, alto, tenor, clarinet; Bert Brandsma, clarinet, tenor; Joe Farler, banjo elec.guitar, John Day, bass, John Watson, drums.

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