The Jazz Repertory Company presents ‘100 Years of Jazz… in 99 minutes’ – a conceit that needs substantiation, surely? How can an ensemble numbering just six at its peak convey the onward rush of jazz development in all its shapes and sizes from its earliest origins to the present day in a mere 99 minutes? A fallacy, something for Trade Standards to check, wouldn’t you say? Can it be true?
Well, having seen these spirited players at work before, and having again witnessed their heady mix of stylistic bravura, ready wit and sheer instrumental brio at first hand, I can happily answer in the affirmative. Don’t just take my word for it; consider the reaction of this Sunday-night near-capacity audience, their end-of-concert ovation mixing vibrant enthusiasm and bemusement at the show of virtuosity just experienced. In short, and not for the first time, a triumph.
As ever, Richard Pite’s merry band (aka the Jazz Repertory Company) marched in first, blasting away with saxophonist Pete Long on cornet, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso on trombone, pianist Nick Dawson playing clarinet, bassist Dave Chamberlain on side drum and drummer Pite himself on sousaphone. Herein lay the clue to the concert’s ensuing success as each man (plus added attraction Georgina Jackson on vocals and trumpet) switched instruments at heroic if not bewildering speed, and in apparently fearless fashion.
Tomasso became a heartfelt Louis, then Bix, and on to Harry James, before emulating Chet, Dizzy and Miles with a stutter or two when it came to free jazz while Long, ebullient as ever, out-swung Bechet on soprano, swooned as Trumbauer, surged as Hawk and pulsated as Bird, switching saxes, playing flute and even bass guitar as the onrush of styles dictated. Along the way, Jackson added her trenchant trumpet to ‘Sing, Sing, Sing‘, evoked Billie Holiday touchingly with her vocal on ‘Lover Man’ and generally fired up the ensemble, this allowing Tomasso to move over to trombone as and when, while Pite juggled sticks and eras with apparent insouciance.
Having started as solo Joplin, Dawson took on every pianist from Morton to Waller and then essayed ‘Tea for Two’ in chameleon-like fashion, hardly pausing for breath between his Tatum, his Garner and his Peterson. Chamberlain had his chances to shine too, adding guitar as required, banjo even, before setting his cap at Duke’s ‘Pitter Panther, Patter’ as a tribute to the immortal Jimmy Blanton and then made for his bass guitar during ‘Birdland’, ahead of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’, whose balm-like serenity signalled that time was up. So, 99 minutes? Well, no, just over.
So, no hint of parody or pastiche, strong personal identities still maintained, in a cleverly-packaged show that worked well on Cadogan Hall’s wide-open stage, informed by deep reverence for the music, but leavened by humour and accomplished with grace and verve.
– Peter Vacher
– Photos by Ravi Chandarana