REVIEW: Kansas Smitty's House Band at Kansas Smitty's (2018 EFG LJF)

Kansas Smitty's House Band
Phone pic: Rachel Coombes
Kansas Smitty's House Band
(Kansas Smitty's, First Set 20 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rachel Coombes)

Having seen Giacomo Smith (saxophone/clarinet) and Adrian Cox (clarinet), two Kansas Smitty House Band members, put on an impressive performance with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Barbican earlier this year, I was eager to see them perform with the full Smitty team on ‘home turf’ – at their very own cosy Kansas Smitty bar tucked away on Broadway Market. While the atmosphere could not have been more different, the vigour and dynamism of their playing reminded me just why these two musicians had piqued my interest in the first place.

The band have made a name for themselves as masters of swing, counting among their core inspirations Count Basie and Fats Waller; this show bore witness to the fact that, nearly100 years on, the genre is as fertile and fresh as it was in the early 20th century. If the band’s mission is to prove this, they have certainly succeeded.

The group’s first set on Tuesday night was made up almost entirely of their own original compositions. Standout numbers included the rocky Cranes, written by the band’s guitar player Dave Archer, which saw Joe Webb on piano in tight counterpoint with bassist Ferg Ireland. Another brand new work, Leo, provided the drummer Will Cleasby with a chance to show off his prodigious talent with a lengthy solo, while Pete Horsfall on the trumpet delivered masterful, soaring lines on High Noon. Thrilling stabs alternated with thoughtful Ellington-inspired passages on Twentieth Century, and After Midnight was a masterclass in woozy, gin-soaked swing, aided by Giacomo’s silky tone on the saxophone (both these works appear on the band’s recently released EP Winter).

The mood changed abruptly with the up-beat Take Me Home, a tribute to band leader Giacomo’s hometown of Saratoga Springs, during which Adrian switched from clarinet to husky crooning, eliciting audience participation for the rousing chorus. Before rounding off the set with a homage to a bygone era in the form of an arrangement from Porter Steele’s High Society, they romped enthusiastically through The Bipper, a work which perhaps demonstrated best of all just how tight-knit this ensemble is. Throughout the set Giacomo delighted the audience with his anecdotes and mischievous jibes at fellow band members – like their swing heroes, these men are not only remarkable musicians, but fantastic all-round entertainers.


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