REVIEW: James Brady Big Band - Swing Into Christmas at Mirth, Marvel and Maud in Walthamstow

"Musicians in slightly alarming patterned jumpers"
James Brady (L) and Sam Knight (R) at Swing Into Christmas 2017
Photo credit: Trevor Lee Photography

James Brady. Swing Into Christmas Family Show.
(Mirth, Marvel and Maud, Walthamstow. 23 December 2017. Afternoon family show. Review by Naadia Sherrif)

It’s been a good year for family-aimed jazz shows and in choosing ‘Maud’ a restored 1930’s cinema in the venue that has played host to the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands, James Brady found the perfect blend of hip and nostalgia for his Christmas extravaganza.

And extravagant it was, with elves, an appearance by Santa, a charity raffle and Christmas jumpers - not to mention the huge Art Deco bar - to get the audience into the mood. There was a distinct feeling that for many people, glass in one hand, song sheet in the other, this marked the start of the holiday. Musically James Brady pulled no punches and the opening medley of Christmas classics revealed his capacity as arranger, musical director and bandleader. Sparring soprano sax and trombone forged the way to a swinging Rudolf and Jingle Bells with solos from pianist Alex Bryson and trombonist Jamie Pimenta. The later medley of Carols was a seat-of-the-pants tour of styles and feels with a soaring soprano sax solo by Tom Ridout on Silent Night and rousing vocals provided by the packed house.

"An extravaganza...with elves"
Harriet Oakley (L), Cathy Al-Ghabra (R)
Photo credit: Trevor Lee Photography
Vocalists Ray Estaire and David Guttieres embodied the style with Ray’s tender, bluesy take on The Christmas Song a stirring moment, and David’s rich Sinatra-esque sound on It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas meeting with wild applause. The surprise star though, was Harriet Oakley. An elf-narrator for most of the show she raised the roof in one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the evening.

The band was exemplary. Stand-out moments were two beautifully arranged brass solis, but with a powerhouse trumpet section of Tom Syson and Alex Ridout coupled with trombonist Jamie Pimenta and bass trombonist John Caddick this was no surprise. Altoist Rachel Kerry provided a boppy well-crafted solo on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and tenorist Sam Knight’s playing on The Christmas Song had subtlety and weight. Baritone player Jake Burgess was raw and bluesy on ‘Zat You Santa Claus?, providing a perfect foil for Estaire’s scat.

The James Brady Big Band
Photo credit: Trevor Lee Photography

Throw in the tight swinging bass and drums of Dave Manington and Scott Chapman respectively and the backing vocals of Cathy Al-Ghabra and you have everything you need for an afternoon of big band joy and I must say it was heartwarming to see a large ensemble of fiercely concentrating musicians all in slightly alarming patterned jumpers. It took me back to the Vortex in the '90s watching the London Jazz Orchestra.

James Brady
Photo credit: Trevor Lee Photography

This was the first outing for the James Brady Big Band. It was the culmination of months of hard work and a Christmassy triumph. Hopefully there will be many more.




Naadia Sherrif is a musician. Her husband Dave Manington is a member of the James Brady Big Band.

NOTE: Video from the evening show.  Photos by Trevor Lee Photography - more images HERE

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