REVIEW: Newport Jazz Festival Celebration at Cadogan Hall (2014 EFG LJF)

Anita O'Day in the film Jazz on  Summer's Day

Newport Jazz Festival Celebration
(Cadogan Hall. Tuesday, 18 November 2014. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Vacher)

Drummer/impresario/historian Richard Pite’s ingenuity and enthusiasm know no bounds, it seems. Fresh from presenting a well-received LJF programme celebrating Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman’s New York heyday just days before at the same venue, here he was back in this uplifting space to recall the 1950s Newport Jazz Festivals, again to a full house of highly appreciative listeners.

The premise here was simple enough: recreate Duke Ellington’s 1956 Newport Suite, factor in Cole Porter’s music from the movie High Society, move on to photographers Bert Stern’s evocative documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, leap forward to the Dizzy Gillespie big band and their 1957 NJF offerings and conclude matters with Duke’s immortal Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.

Well, simple to say perhaps, but mightily challenging to accomplish. It needed a cast of, not thousands, but certainly twenty, all hand-picked to suit and a level of commitment that allowed the proceedings to move well beyond pastiche and on to creative replication. This was epitomised when tenorist Mike Hall, given the unforgiving task of recreating the seminal Paul Gonsalves solo on D&C, chose not to chase a note-for-note duplication but to give its unrelenting surge a twist of his own, with Pete Long’s superb orchestra in full cry behind him. Earlier, young altoist Simon Marsh had evoked the memory of Johnny Hodges on Jeep’s Blues with due care and attention before the band essayed the multi-part Newport Suite.

With Long’s opening clarinet cadenza duly done, trumpeter Ryan Quigley made the first of a number of impressive incisions, soaring high over a crunching trumpet section, the band bounding in with gusto. ‘High Society’ gave trumpeter Rico Tomasso his head, especially so on ‘Now you Has Jazz’, Louis-like for sure, but couched in his own heart-felt manner, trombonist Ian Bateman on song alongside, with Long similarly fluent. Whether the show needed the soft-centred Little One and the rest of the film’s balladry may be questionable for all that Spats Langham coped well as an ersatz Bing Crosby.

Tomasso-Bateman- Long, the last of these three on tenor, then gave Blues Walk a cheery going-over before pianist James Pearson essayed Blue Monk, momentarily allowing us to picture its composer from Stern’s film before Georgina Jackson reminded us of Anita O’Day’s impact with Sweet Georgia Brown/Tea For Two. Then followed more Louis from Rico, then Dizzy’s formidable Cool Breeze and Manteca as dealt by this terrific ensemble, Quigley and fellow-trumpeter George Hogg making high notes seem easy. Then came Hall’s finisher. He looked triumphant and so he should but then that goes for the whole presentation. Put aside one or two bits of cheesy stage biz, and look for this package to live again. It was that good.

The Jazz Repertory Company has  more surprises in store for 2015.

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