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‘She looked and sounded every inch the iconic 40s big-band diva’

Jazz@stockcross: Apollo Big Band with vocalist Emily Apps at the Sutton Hall, Stockcross on Friday, May 12. Review by GAVIN WILKINSON

The popularity of this big band guarantees a full house for their regular Stockcross gigs, and so it was again tonight.

Emily Apps
Emily Apps

The band opened with Moten Swing, a good standard number from the post-bebop era, the rhythm section playing it in, and a first tenor sax solo from the mellow tones of Trevor Heyward.

The band is renowned for choosing excellent guest vocalists, and this first appearance by the very experienced Emily Apps proved to be an inspired choice. On ‘S’ Wonderful, she looked and sounded every inch the iconic 40s big-band diva. With Diamonds are For Ever, she integrated her performance in perfect balance with the band.

Song for My Father was a good opportunity for the whole ensemble to blast out some full-throated chords, then a sharp contrast into a tasteful piano solo from Cliff Rowley over interesting cross-beats from the rhythm section. Perfidia, with its signature Latin backbeat, broke into a swing finale.

Emily Apps
Emily Apps

All That Jazz, the big hit from the musical Chicago, presented Emily with the opportunity to demonstrate why she has landed a West End part. She can move from a show tune to a classic jazzer with fabulous panache, and has the vocal dexterity to make it sound easy, and on It’s Too Darn Hot, she was obviously really enjoying her interaction with this remarkable band.

While her repertoire is firmly rooted in musical theatre and established big-band classics, she made The Lady is a Tramp sound fresh and energetic, with extra lyrics that were new to me. The band’s imaginative interpretation of the Lennon-McCartney masterpiece, Blackbird, posed challenging rhythm changes with unexpected funkiness throughout, the rhythm section getting the off-beats just right.

Band leader Les Bruce makes a point of varying the repertoire and finding new and demanding arrangements. La Almeja Pequena was a piece I had not heard before, a fast samba with some superb intricacy from the ensemble, with the expressive trumpet of Brian Yule soaring over an impeccable drum pattern by Nick Tipper.

There are many ways of interpreting The Shadow of Your Smile, and a lush arrangement gave Diane Prince an excellent feature, the full, sonorous tone of her trombone matching the mood of the composition. Zing Went the Strings of My Heart is Emily’s favourite song, but until tonight she had not found a band that had an arrangement, so full marks to band member Jed Roylance for his compositional skills.

The Look of Love is among the best of Burt Bacharach’s compositions, and Emily performed it using her voice as if an instrument in the band, handling the quirky phrasing quite masterfully. She clearly had a ball performing with Apollo, and her encore, Get Happy, left the audience yelling for more. Let’s hope this remarkably polished performer returns soon.

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