Skelton-Skinner All-Stars Shine Across The Thames

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The imposing members-only Phyllis Court Club overlooks the Thames and offers a fine vantage point for the town’s regatta and any other river-borne activities but is also, surprisingly perhaps, a very classy venue for jazz. With a determined jazz committee and a nine-times a year concert list to fill, it’s no wonder that groups are queuing up to appear there. None more so that this superb big band whose members are the cream of the crop, in demand to perform in any variety of situations, yet apparently willing to drop anything to perform its Terry Gibbs Dream Band repertoire. More to the point perhaps for the organisers, their presence had attracted a full-house audience to the club’s spacious ballroom, their attention caught and retained by the band’s dynamism, solo strength and vibrant team-work.

Lest it be thought that there is merely a repertoire orchestra linked umbilically to Gibbs and his machinations for their existence, its pad is spiced by original pieces from co-leader Colin Skinner and trombonists Callum Au and Mark Nightingale. Even so, it’s the extrovert quality and compositional vitality of the Dream Band albums that led to the co-leader’s desire to first form the band and that justly was what they mostly presented here. Naturally, it fell to vibist Anthony Kerr to take the greater share of the solo honours, each piece voiced to link him to the theme, his four-mallet expertise both enticing and creative. 

Exhuming arrangements by Bill Holman, Marty Paich and Manny Albam and performing them acoustically might have seemed like a throwback but the present-day qualities of soloists like trumpeters Danny Marsden and Mike Lovatt, trombonists Au, Andy Wood and Gordon Campbell and the all-round talents on offer among the saxophones ensured relevance, as did Matt Skelton’s explosive stance at the drums. Just to hear Nightingale’s ‘Blues On The House’ or Au’s version of ‘This Is Always’ and to observe substitute guitarist James Kitchman stretch out on Skinner’s ‘Sweet Lorraine’ chart was enough to gladden every heart. This band recorded a few years ago and should again; more to the point, it should be heard far more widely.

– Peter Vacher