After a brief period of neglect of the blog (but not of jazz or bits or writing, of which more in another post), mid-winter festivities seem like a good time to pop up again.
It would have seemed bah-humbugish in the extreme, given that I had a clear diary on the day in question, not to have succumbed to the blandishments of GBH Big Band‘s MD Mike Daniels to pop along to their annual do at the Wiltshire Music Centre, especially given Mike’s legendary ability to sweet talk special guests, and impeccable taste in big band arrangements. GBH stands for Gorgeous Big Horns in case you were wondering, and it was a great decision (to go).
GBH served up little mini-sets of three pieces at a time, skipping between Basie, Stan Kenton, Strayhorn/ Ellington charts, Ella Fitzgerald repertoire with Clara Atkins doing the honours on sumptuous vocals and, a revelation to me and making the trip out worth it just for these, some Tom Kubis charts; all of course arrangements of suitably christmassy fare. And those special guests? Well this year the duo of Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello punctuated the GBH moments with mini-sets of their own.
GBH kicked proceedings of with Joy to World, a vivacious samba groove bustling along with stomach fluttering surges of harmony and perfectly timed gear shits to quicken the pulse: A glorious arrangement by American Tom Kubis, the first of several through the evening. A bit of christmas Basie, a quick stretch of the vocal chords for Clara no Winter Wonderland and the duo were on.
Rebello and Ballamy have been having an annual meet up and recording session for a year or two, apparently in Jason’s garden shed. The results appear on Soundcloud; follow the link to Christmas tunes. In between a bit of banter and disarmingly terrible jokes, they dipped into their now quite extensive repertoire of re-worked carols, groovy takes on christmas classics and a few more worth-the-ticket-price-alone moments, as Ballamy’s trade mark yearning sound etched the outlines of melodies buoyed by rhapsodic accompaniment and weaving, on the fly counter point from Rebello’s piano. In The Bleak Midwinter was a particular stand out among many.
By the time the bid band roared to a climax on another Kubis arrangement, this time of O Holy Night, the capacity crowd were vocal in their enthusiasm. It was also a good moment to reflect on a regular theme of mine, that of ‘people who make stuff happen’. Mike Daniels, (the ‘MD the MD’ gag is quite well worn now) is one such, running choirs, GBH of course, youth big bands, workshops and more. This show was at least the second time this year he’d sold out the Music Centre with a mass collaboration (Soulful Messiah back in June was a wild success). So raise a seasonal glass to Mike Daniels in particular, for this show and many others, and the others like him up and down the country who make stuff happen.