REVIEW: Kansas Smitty’s House Band feat. Clare Teal at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Clare Teal with Kansas Smitty's
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Kansas Smitty’s House Band feat. Clare Teal
(Town Hall, 5 May 2018, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

In Hackney’s Broadway Market, near London Fields, is the bar they call Kansas Smitty’s, home for the past three years to a collective of musicians who host and/or supply much of the music, from blues and gypsy jazz to Brazilian grooves and good old fashioned swing. They brought with them to the festival a few of the performers who have appeared at the bar, but on Saturday night they appeared as themselves, an octet who sound at times like a big band.
Kansas Smitty's House Band at Cheltenham
Photo credit: Peter Jones
Led by American-born saxophonist Giacomo Smith, not only are they formidably accomplished musicians, but their repertoire ranges far and wide through the history of jazz. As an example, there were a couple of Jelly Roll Morton tunes from the 1920s, beginning with Courthouse Bump, a rackety, wide-steppin’ tune that made you realize how important jazz was in bringing fun into hard lives. Smith took the early solos, gradually giving way to pianist Jason Rebello, clarinetist/vocalist Adrian Cox and trumpeter/vocalist Pete Horsfall, these two duetting with gusto on the New Orleans-ish Mamacita.

After half an hour or so, on came vocalist Clare Teal for an Ellington interlude – the gospel-infused Jump for Joy, and then what was for me the best thing of the night, the lovely ballad I Like the Sunrise, delivered by Teal with sincerity and controlled passion. (Both of these tunes feature lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.) The third Duke number was I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues, after which La Teal departed. Short Stack, a pancake-themed number, was next up, beginning with Ferg Ireland’s long bass solo which the audience, being unfamiliar with jazz convention, somehow failed to talk through. After a thunderous Muppet Show-style drum solo from Will Cleasby, the twinkly, engaging Teal returned to sing Movin’ On, a skiffle-type blues, sharing vocal duties with Cox.

Kansas Smitty’s House Band was an excellent choice for the Town Hall, which has traditionally accommodated the festival’s more mainstream acts. It was unpredictable, varied and terrific fun, with some astonishing displays of musicianship, but they never lost sight of the prime goal: to entertain the audience. That they achieved with room to spare.

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