Proms 2011 – Tribute to Stan Kenton [Claire Martin, BBC Big Band, Jiggs Whigham]


Claire Martin (vocalist)

BBC Big Band
Jiggs Whigham

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 September, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Stan Kenton (1911-79) after a concert in Munich 1973. Photograph: Hans BernhardIn a Proms season with understandably its fair share of Liszt and Mahler, why not also a slot devoted to Stan Kenton – the American bandleader whose centenary falls this year. The present programme, cannily assembled and magnetically directed by Jiggs Whigham, certainly made for one of this season’s most memorable late-nighters.

With its mesmeric opening fanfare and surging dynamism of what follows, the opening section from Kenton’s Artistry in Rhythm started things at the top, then Bill Holman’s arrangement of Edgar Sampson’s Stompin’ at the Savoy made for a snazzy continuation. Claire Martin made her first appearance to the unstoppable verve of Charles Strouse’s A Lot of Livin’ to Do (from the musical Bye Bye Birdie), Holman’s arrangement setting up numerous solo and section ‘breaks’ to compete with the vocal, while Bill Russo’s Portrait of a Count was a fine showcase for the trumpet-playing of Martin Shaw. Claire Martin then the stakes were further raised with Kenton’s arrangement of Harry Warren’s effervescent Jeepers Creepers (from the film Going Places), before Marty Paich’s ambitious arrangement of Arthur Johnston’s My Old Flame (from the film Belle of the Vanities) found her in more reflective mood – with vocal subtly enhanced by fluid pianism from Robin Aspland.

Claire Martin. Photograph: Kate EastmanLike Duke Ellington, Kenton was always searching for ways to fuse the big-band medium with the formal diversity and expressive reach then associated with classical music – one of the most potent results being Concerto to End All Concertos, with its allocation of sections and solos to steadily evolving moods whose thematic links are made explicit in a majestic apotheosis, and in which the BBC Big Band gave of its collective best. Hardly less impressive was Holman’s scintillating arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña with its heady yet ominous atmosphere; after which, Martin returned for the sultry repose distilled in Holman’s arrangement of Sonny Burke’s Black Coffee, followed by the wistful elegance Lennie Niehaus brought to Billy Strayhorn’s immortal Daydream. The main set closed with El Congo Valiente – the sure highpoint of Johnny Richard’s suite Cuban Fire which, with its riotous percussion and irresistible panache, fairly brought the house down.

Time for an encore in Harold Arlen’s That Old Black Magic (from the film Star-Spangled Rhythm), Martin discreetly joined by Whigham on trombone. An affecting end to a worthwhile show whose lateness no doubt accounted for the less than capacity audience and only makes a ‘main evening’ Kenton slot more necessary.

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