|Jacqui Hicks, Paul Lacey|
Paul Lacey’s Back to Basie Orchestra
(Wyllyotts Theatre, Potters Bar. 27th October 2013. Review by Peter Vacher)
Trumpeter Paul Lacey came up with the idea of forming a repertory big band to play the late Count’s vast array of arrangements way back in 2001. Having overcome the initial suspicions of the Basie estate itself, he’s battled against today’s ‘hard sell’ for jazz and kept this marvellous ensemble afloat and on the road, to coin a mixed metaphor.
To his credit and theirs, the band’s zest to play and collective joy seems undimmed if this outstanding concert is anything to go by. With a not-quite-full house lapping up every number, some well-known, others less so, and with Jacqui Hicks adding her own classy vocal interpretations, this was a packed, no-let-up outing, fast-moving, and rewarding, Lacey the cheery front-man and principal trumpet soloist. As pianist Nick Dawson said, “It’s a great band” and he’s right.
It’s all too easy to sneer at ‘tribute’ big bands or ‘ghost’ bands, for that matter, but Back To Basie’s manifesto is a cut above anything those endless Glenn Miller clones can offer. For a start, Lacey is assiduous in tracking down the actual vintage charts, viz those he obtained from the late Ernie Wilkins’s widow and played here, thus allowing this glorious music to live again and his soloists to have their say.
Then again, he’ll balance his concert presentations with hit numbers from the Count’s glory days like the opening ‘Flight of the Foo Birds’, from Neal Hefti’s ‘Atomic’ book, with Allison Neale’s brief alto solo (she added gorgeous flute on ‘Cute’) and Pete Cater making thunder on the drums before giving us something like ‘Yuriko’ by Billy Byers or Quincy Jones’s ‘For Lena & Lennie’ with its soft muted brass.
It was good to hear Ms Hicks taking the place of Joe Williams on the rousing ‘Every Day’ and to enjoy Dawson’s very different solo excursions on ‘The Kid From Red Bank.’ And that’s also part of this band’s success: soloists willing to place their personal stamp on a piece rather than replicate familiar improvisations as trombonist Ian Bateman did so well on ‘I Needs To Be Bee’d With’, making me think momentarily of Al Grey’s exultant approach, and tenorist Alex Garnett did in blustery fashion on ‘Corner Pocket’ as Cater lay into the skins.
Time to give the lead players a plug too for their dynamism, that’s altoist Mark Crooks for the saxes, trumpeter Craig Wild and Andy Flaxman for the trombones, each section gliding as one into the softer things (like ‘Li'l Darlin', described by Lacey as ‘a musical duvet’) and then shouting exuberantly when it mattered. They even made me enjoy Basie’s interminable version of ‘April in Paris.'
And while we’re handing out the plaudits, let’s not forget the importance of Cater’s rhythm role here, balancing percussive bombast with crisp brushwork as required and helping Dawson, guitarist John Coverdale and bassist Tom Mark create the foundations for swing. Good for them all and good for Lacey too. Final plug for Terry Dash Music who put the concert on and took the risk. Thanks.