London Jazz Festival – The John Dankworth Big Band


The John Dankworth Big Band:
Andy Panayi, Allison Neale, Julian Marc Stringle, Frank Griffiths & Alan Barnes (reeds)
Tony Fisher, Henry Lowther, Neil Yates & Freddie Gavita (trumpets)
Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson & Bill Geldard (trombones)
Oren Marshall (tuba)
John Horler (piano)
Alec Dankworth (bass)
Allan Ganley & Ralph Salmins (drums & percussion)
John Dankworth (clarinet & saxophone)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 18 November, 2007
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Sir John DankworthAnyone who saw and heard him at Cadogan Hall and at the BBC Proms this summer will know that Sir John Dankworth wears his 80 years lightly, and this concert was a further demonstration of his prowess as a musician and a bandleader honed over half-a-century at the forefront of the British jazz scene.

Typically, the programme mixed standards and established Dankworth numbers with unfamiliar and unheard items – including a dry run for the collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra to be unveiled at the Barbican Hall in February.

Leading off with a bracing take on Gershwin’s evergreen “S’Wonderful”, the first half continued with Madriguera’s plangent “Adios” – before heading into Dankworth territory with the ominous profile of “Down to Earth” and the suavity of “Lord Elgin’s Loft”. There followed a first outing for “The Joint” – which,despite Dankworth’s claims of no narcotic undertones, has a heady atmosphere that seemed at least to play on the association. After “Rehydration” had upped both the tempo and dynamics considerably, “Lower Orders” did as it implied in focussing on the lower register-instruments, while retaining a lively and appealing demeanour. Bringing up the interval, “Tomorrow’s World” was a reminder of the major input that Dankworth had writing signature tunes during the early years of British TV and remains a cracking tune in its own right, as well as being a rhythmic text-book for aspiring jazz composers.

Throughout the first half, Dankworth kept up a steady stream of droll recollections and anecdotes, with seemingly perfect recall (indeed, how many people half his age could run off the names of a 17-piece band with barely a moment’s hesitation?). And, though his playing might largely be restricted to short ‘breaks’ on clarinet or saxophone, the timing and placing of these are integral to the context of the particular piece, and never a token gesture. In other words, professionalism of the highest order.

The second half was largely taken up with eight movements (out of the intended 12) of “World Jazz Suite” – a large-scale work that looks set to take the oft-attempted fusion of jazz-band and orchestra in new and fruitful directions. From the intent motion of ‘Prologue to a Pearl’, this is clearly music with a purpose – continuing with the solo vignettes of ‘Fiesta of Flowers’ and the tail-chasing jinx of ‘Fugue for Fellows’, before slipping into the generous lyricism of ‘How Goes the World’. Some subtle rhythmic interplay with ‘Haul Away (The Horler Way)’, then ‘Offbeat Sonata’ again provided effective punning on a classical archetype. ‘Harvey’s Festival’ unfolded as a breezy interlocking sequence of solo turns, before ‘Emerald Epilogue’ brought the work – as it currently stands – to a deftly understated close. At just over half-an-hour, “World Jazz Suite” is already a substantial and diverting listen – to which the addition of an orchestral component will no doubt open-up further possibilities.

Clearly unfazed by the enterprise, the Dankworth Big Band brought the evening to a conclusion with a melting version of Duke Ellington’s “Tonight I Shall Sleep”, followed by a rousing rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” – here made a riot of solo workouts. And what could be appropriate for an encore than to have wife and daughter – Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth – join the band (in which Alec Dankworth’s dextrous bass was at the centre of the rhythm section) to round off an evening that not even the unseemly weather could make less pleasurable. February’s Barbican Hall concert should indeed be a memorable one.

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