Big Band Special

The Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham
31-07-16

The Big Band Special featured four big bands over the afternoon in the lovely garden at the back of The Spotted Dog and was the final promotion of the two stalwarts of the jazz scene in Birmingham, Richard Foote and Jonathan Silk, who are now handing over the running of the weekly Tuesday Spotted Dog session to Sean Gibbs and Dave Ferris. After 7pm the session moved inside with two sets from smaller groups, Gorillabot and Cop Music.

Big Band Special

The Spotted Dog back garden setting for Big Band Special

The garden is a covered area out the back of The Spotted Dog pub which makes for a nicely informal area with the bands and the audience in close proximity thereby creating an excellent atmosphere.

The Notebenders were first up with Fred West and Cynthia Amos delivering a forceful version of Going To Kansas City; Ronnie Palmer took a fine solo on tenor saxophone. The band was augmented with a number of guests, notably Sean Gibbs and Mike Adlington on trumpets, which made the band less saxophone heavy and generally better balanced. So they gave a fine performance finishing with a storming version of St Thomas. Young saxophonist Archie Tulk, currently out of action with a broken ankle, sat in on one number and impressed with a nicely developed solo.

Kinda Dukish led by Mike Fletcher Senior played a set which mixed some of the less well known Duke Ellington numbers with some of the famous tunes. So we had rarely heard tunes such as Boy Meets Horn, Portrait of Mahalia Jackson, Unbooted Character, Upper Manhattan Medical Group (a Billy Strayhorn composition) East St Louis Toodle-oo as well as the more famous Mood Indigo, Harlem Airshaft and Take The A Train. It’s wonderful to hear these great tunes that are perhaps somewhat neglected today and it’s impressive that there is a band in Birmingham dedicated to keeping the Ellington tradition alive. Also to hear a number of excellent older players who we don’t get to hear at the regular venues round the city.

The Birmingham Jazz Orchestra led by trumpeter Sean Gibbs seem to be developing into the flagship big band for Birmingham; the line up is almost exclusively made up of recent graduates from the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course and their repertoire is drawn from the compositions of band members. On this occasion they played material from Sean Gibbs’ Burns suiteThey began with Tam O’ Shanter with Ben Lee’s guitar soaring out of the ensemble. This makes for a glorious sound reminding me of the way Loose Tubes use John Parricelli’s guitar solos. Overall, the suite covers a wide range of moods from the dark to the more upbeat and features fine solos from Sean himself, Ben Lee, Mike Adlington, Tom Dunnett, Chris Young and many others.

The final set came from the Jonathan Silk Big Band. Jonathan had made the very sensible decision to play a set inspired mostly by a YouTube recording of the Dutch Metropole Orchestra working with Chaka Khan. This was the perfect end to the afternoon, with swinging funky and fun music delivered with great style and panache by the big band and great vocals (once we could hear them!) from singer songwriter Abi Farrell.  

Just one special mention: trumpeter Mike AdIington played in all four big bands and his excellence and tightness really raise the level of any band he appears in.

I loved the occasion and the variety of the music. It made think that Birmingham may not yet have a big modern jazz festival, but it does have a number of special, varied and very enjoyable events over the summer period, the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in Moseley Park, the Legends Festival run by Birmingham Jazz and this one, as well as the best round-the-year scene outside London. Do we need a big festival? I think we probably do, but I’ll leave that discussion to another day. What was also positive about this Big Band Special was that it was well attended by a wonderfully diverse audience who clearly loved the music and the atmosphere on a dry (that is not rainy!) summer’s day. Also nice that many of the musicians playing in the early bands stuck around to hear the other bands thereby adding to the general warmth and comradeship of the atmosphere.

Finally Gorillabot, the duo between Ben Lee and Jack James played one of their amazing sets indoors and were followed by Cop Music. I had to leave before that final set.



Categories: Live review

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