Retrospective with Iain Ballamy
Ellington/Strayhorn Such Sweet Thunder
Retrospective with Liane Carroll
Iain Ballamy (tenor saxophone)
Liane Carroll (vocals)
Sara Colman (backing vocals)
Malcolm Edmonstone (piano & director)
The Jazz Choir
National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 5 August, 2016
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Now into its third decade, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland was more than due a Proms platform for its all-round excellence. Falling into three parts, this late-night event accordingly played to the musicians’ strengths.
First was a showcase for Iain Ballamy (who last appeared at these concerts as a member of Loose Tubes nearly thirty years ago) – his tenor saxophone incisively to the fore in the moodiness of ‘All Men Amen’, then taking on a rather more whimsical feel in ‘Emmeline’ with its appealing scenario of a dialogue between the suffragette and an ape. The atmospheric ‘Floating’ made an admirable foil to the following intensive jazz-rock workout with electric guitar to the fore and in which the NYJOS was enabled to display its force in addition to its finesse.
Then a complete rendition of Such Sweet Thunder, the 1956 suite that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn dedicated to The Bard in commemoration of the 340th-anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Although each of its twelve movements possesses a title that alludes – sometimes obliquely – to a Shakespeare play, the format is similar to other of Ellington’s larger works in that a solo spot is provided for section principals. Hence the wistful clarinet which pervades ‘Sonnet for Caesar’, the quizzical piano break of ‘Lady Mac’, the stentorian trumpets of ‘Up and Down, Up and Down’ and the soulful alto-saxophone (a sure highlight this) of ‘The Star-Crossed Lovers’. Framing this sequence as a whole were two numbers in which the NYJOS was given its head – the energetic preamble of ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ itself and the propulsive interplay of ‘Circling Fourths’ with its pungent chordal resolution. The score and parts scrupulously edited by Michael Kilpatrick, this suite remains a touchstone of collective virtuosity such as these players seized upon with enthusiasm.
Finally, Liane Carroll, making her (long overdue) Proms debut with a brief though contrasted set given unity (as was the Ballamy collection) by scintillating arrangements from Malcolm Edmonstone, and here Carroll’s inimitable delivery. The breezy (unnamed) opener with scat-singing well to the fore was succeeded by the eloquence of Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, which featured Carroll in partnership with Sara Colman – their intertwining vocals underpinned by the caressing harmonies of The Jazz Choir (its presence more apposite here than in Ballamy’s collection). The plangent nature of Laura Nyro’s ‘And When I Die’ brought a keen emotional response and was followed by the (in this version) tensile energy of Donald Fagan’s ‘Walk Between The Raindrops’ that rounded off this Prom in fine fashion.
A performance, then, to savour – though was it too much to expect a listing of NYJOS’s 27-strong personnel, many of whom might not get the chance to play at the Proms or Royal Albert Hall again any-time-soon and are now without named recognition. But then, the absence of a full listing of players, along with a dearth of information regarding the Ballamy and Carroll sequences, seems to have become the norm for late-night and non-classical Proms and Proms Extras. If the BBC assumes that punters who attend any of these are not interested in or oblivious to such details, it really needs to think again.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms