Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Fifty years on, UK’s youth jazz players have simply got the lot

BASIL Evans is to be congratulated in bringing the National Youth Jazz Orchestra to the Kenton

BASIL Evans is to be congratulated in bringing the National Youth Jazz Orchestra to the Kenton Theatre for the sixth year in succession.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the NYJO’s formation, Basil made a special presentation to its artistic and music director Mark Armstrong.

How right Armstrong was when he remarked that it’s the enthusiasm of such individuals that keeps the heart of live jazz beating in Britain.

NYJO combine the virtues of bands from the “golden swing era” — great dynamics, a glorious depth of sound, superb section work and a wonderful sense of swing with a fresh and contemporary feel to the arrangements that serve as launching pads for the youthful energy of the soloists.

We could have been listening to the Count Basie Band in its heyday, with the rhythm section laying down a straight-ahead beat in compulsive fashion.

It was equally at home with the light-as-a-feather subtleties of Latin America or a heavy “funk” groove on numbers such as the intriguingly titled Crankmaster General.

Stan Tracey’s composition Ballad For Loos, arranged by Steve Melling, an early member of NYJO, was an apt choice for remembrance week featuring moving and suitably reflective solos from Alistair Martin on flugelhorn, saxophonists Dave Healey and Sam Glaser and pianist Joe Hill.

Mark Nightingale, another NYJO alumni, contributed a new arrangement of Just My Bill from Show Boat in tribute to Bill Ashton OBE who founded NYJO in 1965 and directed its operations until succeeded by Mark Armstrong four years ago.

As one would expect from one of the world’s great trombonists, Just My Bill showcased the entire trombone section in choral fashion — a sound to behold!

Other highlights — the fire and ferocity of Tom Ridout’s tenor saxophone on Blowing Hills, an exciting alto dual between Ben Treacher and Sam Glaser on Never The Twain, the gorgeous musical colours captured by the entire band in Dreams, and Mark Armstrong’s trumpet excursion on Lady Be Good.

Mark, whose “day job” is Jazz Professor at the Royal College of Music, leads the orchestra with good humour and irresistible enthusiasm.

No big band would be complete without a singer, and Ellie Bignall fulfilled that role superbly. She has great stage presence, beautifully clear diction and instantly communicated the warmth of her personality in Old Black Magic.

She met the lyrical challenges of It’s De-Lovely with consummate ease and rounded off the evening with a soulful Feeling Good.

As the evening drew to a close Mark Armstrong promised a return visit next year. A word of advice: book early!

Review: Trevor Bannister

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