Fri, 20 Mar 2020
REVIEW BY GAVIN WILKINSON: Apollo Big Band with Simon Currie, at Stockcross Village Hall, on Friday, March 6
THE Stockcross concerts are now an established fixture for the Apollo Big Band, and a guest vocalist is usually featured. On this occasion, however, the guest was Simon Currie, the multi-saxophone virtuoso, who is usually on tour with the The Manfreds when he is not teaching the instrument.
Currie does not rely on showy technical gimmickry, but chooses his notes and phrases with great intelligence and thoughtful musicality. He used Off the Wagon as his warm-up piece, getting a relaxed, sweet tone on his alto, the title being ironic, written as it was by British sax legend Tubby Hayes, who died very young of an overdose.
Currie stated the theme to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite, this time on tenor sax, in unison with trumpeter Steve Chapman, the pitch on both instruments, of course, a literal match. Georgia on My Mind was rendered with a 12/4 rhythm, played only with the rhythm section, Currie producing a rich and moody tone on his tenor sax, the number ending with a very tasteful solo break by pianist Rob Maycock. In contrast, Liberated Brother was a hard-hitting Latin piece, played to a samba-rock beat, with a well-crafted trombone solo from Diane Prince.
The well-loved Bernie’s Tune, made famous by baritone legend Gerry Mulligan, gave Currie the chance to make full use of the fat bottom end of the instrument, getting a lively, bouncy fluidity out of this hefty sax. A fast, swinging Sweet Georgia Brown ended the first half, with the double bass of Simon Ridge stating a strong four-to-the-bar riff, Currie soaring through those characteristic changes on soprano sax, and the entire band blasting out the arrangement, with some good drum punctuation from Nick Tipper.
This band is renowned for its tight and accurate playing and Sing, Sang, Sung, a number known for its difficulty, was typical of their approach and skill, with bandleader Les Bruce joining Currie for a clarinet-duo solos trade-off, while the trumpet section produced a spectacular performance of precision and speed. Ellington’s Caravan skipped lightly through the desert in the top register of Currie’s alto, with chordal variations on the original, while St Thomas, with its infectious calypso beat, gave him the opportunity for a joyful and generous interpretation, with plenty of reference throughout to the tune.
Currie included one of his own compositions, I’m Your Kingpin, written for Paul Jones. A funky rock feel underpinned by trombones kept the riff repeating, with assertive solo-swapping between trumpeter Neil Armstrong and Currie. In the
Cannonball Adderley classic Work Song, Currie’s alto solo was a creative, polyphonic exploration, with a superb solo from James Hearn on flugelhorn. Currie picked up his flute for a laid-back version of Killer Joe, and so completed a tour-de-force across six instruments.
This was an unusual opportunity to hear a big band led from the front by such a consummate performer as Currie, whose ability to change seamlessly between four saxes, clarinet and flute brought a magnificent palette and wide soundscape to this all-instrumental repertoire.