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Review: Jazz In New York Part Two - Swing To Be-Bop

Reviews from our Cadogan Hall shows (including for the London Jazz Festival) and other London concerts, theatre shows, and jazz festivals around the world. 

(Cadogan Hall, 28th January 2017. Review by Peter Vacher - London Jazz News) 

The Jazz Repertory Company’s mission statement might be best defined as the recreation of music from the rich heritage of jazz with as much reflection of its stylistic nuances as is appropriate. This plus a certain degree of light-touch levity, always a given whenever Pete Long is at the helm as he was here in the latest of the JRC’s highly popular Cadogan Hall-based themed concerts. 

With 2017 the centenary year for jazz on record and with the breathless pace of this music’s development, there’s no lack of entry points to choose from when devising a programme like this. Thus this second celebration of Jazz in New York moved us from swing to bop, taking in Cotton Club Ellington from the early 1930s and bounding forward to Dizzy Gillespie’s big band a decade or so later, via a selection of small group swingers.

With vocalist Heather Simmons giving It Don’t Mean A Thing a lusty kick-start, Ian Bateman’s plunger-muted trombone adding grit, the Ellington sequence then took wing with Braggin’ in Brass, a kind of 1930s test-piece, intricate playing by trumpets and trombones pulled off with aplomb. The same attention to detail marked the later series of Ducal themes invariably badged as those of the Blanton-Webster period, with young bassist Laurence Ungless tackling the Blanton lines and the trumpets tearing into everything. 

Significantly, they continued to do this with apparent zest and commendable surety in the concert’s second half, this entirely devoted to Gillespie’s small groups and his demanding big band canon. And who better to play the Dizzy part than Mark Armstrong, with Long laying his clarinet aside and concentrating on some seriously fervent alto. In sum the second half was an Armstrong bop-fest, every number calling for virtuoso trumpet action from Armstrong, taking a night off from his NYJO job, his facial hue deepening as he aimed for – and hit - every rib-shaking high-note. Along the way, other bandsmen had excelled in brief Goodman, Shaw, Kirby and Raymond Scott combo tributes: Scott’s Powerhouse was a zippy surprise. It says much for the musicianship of Long’s crew and his other star soloists, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso [peerless as Cootie Williams], Bateman, the plunger king, Jay Craig, serious on baritone, and Aussie tenorist Duncan Hemstock that their replications eschewed parody or pastiche.


And that’s not to overlook the vivacious dancers, Richard Pucci and Colet Castaño, or the expert percussionists Satin Singh and Dave Pattman added for Dizzy’s Latin numbers. Numerous and clearly purposeful, this cheery collective set out to take the music off the page and give it renewed life. As Long said, “If this [music] doesn’t turn you on, you haven’t got a switch!” Quite. 

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