Sunday, 16 December 2018

REVIEW: RNCM Big Band Concert - The RNCM, Manchester.

The RNCM - Royal Northern College of Music - has long become synonymous with quality and churning out high-class talent and tonight’s pre-festive performance by its Big Band matched and proved this in volumes.

Led by special guest Pete Long - of BBC Radio 2’s Big Band Special fame, as well as front man for Echoes of Ellington, after starting in a bank and touring with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra playing a multitude of wind and reed powered instruments and bass guitar, and many forms of ensemble on-board the QE2 cruise ship - whose welcome wit and talents are exceptional, shown especially on the clarinet and when leading this outstanding group, the programme was brilliant and the members showcased so worthy made for an excellent night’s entertainment for the present, mostly more mature audience, and helped to bring forward the Christmas mood for sure, even without the inclusion of any songs of that genre.

Set in the college’s theatre space, the stage was moodily set in readiness for a sophisticated yet relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable evening, complete with anecdotes of the life of Benny Goodman - of whom Pete is a keen admirer - including a time when he employed a lady by the name Peggy Lee to join him and his pianist at his apartment for a rehearsal where, between practising his clarinet in the kitchen for 20-minute periods, he returned to the room with a jumper on when they expected him to have put the heating on with it being January in New York!

The treat-ridden programme featured ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Don’t Be That Way’, ‘Clarinet a la King’, Down South Camp Meeting', cruise-ship/lounge-esque ‘Jersey Bounce’, Fats Waller’s ‘Stealin Apples’, the famously reworked ‘Christopher Columbus’, ‘Life Goes To A Party’ which is a triumphant test for the fingers of the brass section, before taking us into the interval with ‘Bugle Call Rag’.

The second half included: ‘Swingtime In The Rockies’, ‘King Porter Stomp’, ‘Clarinade’ and the tribute to the deli owner who fed New York big band players who couldn’t afford much; the ‘Big John Special’. Then came ‘Paganini Caprice’, ‘Sophisticated Lady’ and a change to the programme to include a Duke Ellington number featuring baritone player Simeon Evans. The great ‘Loch Lomond’ followed, before ‘One O’clock Jump’ and the ever impressive ‘Sing Sing Sing’ which was originally written for, sent to and turned down by Bing Crosby. The finale of the night was ‘Goodbye’ which was commonly used to end various radio shows back in the Bebop era.

Throughout the night there was a feeling of being transported to the 1940s but it was also evident that we were in the presence of some huge talents on stage, some of whom even played one-handed! With the inclusion of a performance by a smaller band which meant that drummer Joshua Savage took to the vibraphone whilst guitarist Louis Campbell took up the drum kit alongside pianist Ali Roocroft and solos throughout from Saxophonists Lily Wilson-Caines, Martha Cullen and Trumpeter Liam Orr, the stellar cast was completed by sax players Tasuku Noguchi, Rebecca Corbett; trumpet players William Dakin, Cameron Lockett and Zoe Kundu; trombone players Ethan McKnight, Christian Dow and Miriam Wallich; and double bassist Callum Cronin. The effect provided through the use of various mutes and even bowler hats was great and the rapid movements of drummer Josh should also be mentioned.

This is by far the best Big Band concert I have been to and I cannot wait to return again soon…perhaps for the college-hosted Big Band Festival in January. Thank you to all involved for a brilliant night and to the performers who train so hard for their competency. Well done!

Reviewer - John Kristof
on - 14/12/18

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