REVIEW: Man Overboard Quintet at Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge

Bringing the dancers out: Man Overboard
at Childerley Hall. L-R: Fiona Monbet, Jean-Marie Fagon
Louisa Jones, Dave O'Brien, Ewan Bleach

Man Overboard Quintet
(Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge, 24th June 2016. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

Man Overboard
 Quintet has been an important part of the UK's major swing revival of the last few years, "the counter-revolution," as it was tellingly described by Brian Blain HERE, light-hearted music which appeals to heart and the feet of audiences right across the age spectrum. The band's two impeccable albums on the label Champs Hill have also done well (disclosure: I wrote the sleeve notes). A few months ago the band announced that violinist Thomas Gould's diary as a classical soloist and orchestral leader is simply too busy to permit him to accept regular dates with the band (interview from February below.) So this concert, in a welcoming barn with a well-stocked bar a few miles to the West of Cambridge, was an early opportunity to hear his successor, the French violinist Fiona Monbet.

Monbet is a dazzling and versatile player. Her jazz violin pedigree is impeccable, having studied and worked at various stages with perhaps the most complete and revered jazz violinist in France, Didier Lockwood. She has absorbed much of his aesthetic on the instrument, the infinite variety of his attack, the teasing delays, perfect tuning being subjected to bends, smears and up-or-down glissandi, flautando harmonics, ricochet bowing - the full works. But she has her own musical avenues to step down, with everything from echoes of Brahms to powerfully laid-back bluegrass and punchy rock violin. And even a turned-sauce quote from the Marseillaise.

This was an early gig for this new format of the band, but Monbet has stepped into a group driven by a generous and tireless engine room. Jean-Marie Fagon the bandleader is flawless on rhythm guitar and Dave O'Brien is always characterful and supportive, if occasionally slightly over-prominent in the sound mix last night. Vocalist Louisa Jones steps into the band for her vocal numbers, and her compelling stage and vocal presence have a delightful way of communicating directly to the audience in the room from the moment she walks on and starts singing.

The Fiona Monbet/Ewan Bleach melodic partnership is already working very well with the mutual listening, the to- and fro-ing and duetting all working well. Bleach now perhaps feels more comfortable stepping ouside of the chords and extending the invitation to Monbet to join him than he did with Thomas Gould, and Monbet accepts the challenge with considerable style and flair. Bleach himself makes an astonishingly versatile contribution to the band, switching at will to soprano sax a la Bechet, to alto sax. He found all the mysterious hues of the throat register of the clarinet in Lullaby of the Leaves and his solo vocal number was one of the highlights of the evening.

Childerley Hall is in open country, tucked away at the end of a 2-mile private road. It is popular as a wedding and function venue, and puts on just a few concerts each year. There were rumours last night that the November Cambridge Jazz Festival might be thinking of eloping out-of-town for an evening. The temptation to stray should be encouraged. The evening ended on a real high as, by then, everyone had clearly taken Man Overboard to its heart, in typically cautious English slow-adopter style. The barn audience gave the speedy closing numbers All of Me and What a Little Moonlight Can Do vociferous approval and a standing ovation.


The French members: Fiona Monbet and Jean-Marie Fagon 


LINKS: Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon from February 2016
Podcast Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon and Thomas Gould from 2013
Childerley Hall 
Man Overboard  Quintet

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