Buck Clayton Legacy Band bounce with Billie at Pizza


There's said to be a minor resurgence in swing in the metropolis, with new bands popping up, and that's all to the good. Still, for the real thing, you needed to be on hand to hear the mighty Buck Clayton Legacy Band storm into 'Outer Drive', its opening piece for this Soho one-off. Arranged by band trombonist Adrian Fry, this had all the ensemble cohesion and rhythmic certainty that its original composer, Basie trumpeter Buck Clayton himself, would have relished. Clayton knew how to give his pieces an inbuilt propensity to swing, but as band altoist Alan Barnes said to me, "I can think of plenty of bands who'd still miss out." Happily this one, propelled by the peerless Bobby Worth, our finest swing drummer, who formed a tight rhythmic bond with bandleader-bassist Alyn Shipton, never put a foot wrong.

Even more to the satisfaction of the late Mr Clayton, were he to be still with us, it boasts an array of on-form soloists. Take Barnes on alto and clarinet, straining every sinew to find a new line on such old favourites as 'The Jeep Is Jumping' or the equally perky 'Broadway Babe'. Then again there's his fellow-saxophonist Robert Fowler, whose robust tenor sound and direct style made me think of Illinois Jacquet, another swing-era hero. Add in the near-boppish trumpet of Ian Smith and the trenchant trombone of Adrian Fry and you have quite a line-up. And that's not to overlook Martin Litton intent at the Steinway, sprinkling every piece with his own personal brand of gold dust, his light touch and lightening runs a joy to observe.

For all this emphasis on the virtues of mainstream, the meat of the night came with the 'guest' appearance of vocalist Lady J, whose role was to evoke and emulate Billie Holiday, especially on songs with a Clayton association. Given her prominence in the mix, it's not surprising that some of the band's intensity dipped with a touch here and there of 'after-you- no-after you', her vocals sometimes struggling to be heard amid the band tumult. Greater familiarity and more rehearsal will sort that out. Any singer, and there have been many, who seeks to tackle the Holiday repertoire is self-evidently a hostage to fortune and unsurprisingly Lady J took a while to settle, coming off best the nearer she got to replicating Billie's sound and behind-the-beat phrasing. Her second set excelled, the confidence building, the backing scaled-down, as on 'God Bless The Child'. For this combination to work as a concert show, it needs a stronger narrative and a more precise sense of purpose: for now, it's best described as a work in progress, even if the band itself is very definitely the finished article.

– Peter Vacher