The Big Chris Barber Band, Queen’s Hall, Friday July 18th ****
There was a sense of déjà vu about the concert given on Friday at the Queen’s Hall for the opening night of this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival. As the Big Chris Barber Band launched into a performance of Duke Ellington’s glorious Rent Party Blues which stirred neck hairs into a standing ovation, memories of this British outfit’s last visit to the Glasgow Jazz Festival flooded back. And so it was for much of the evening, which seemed to follow the same programme (a mixture of classic New Orleans jazz tunes and spirituals, Ellington compositions and the wild card of Miles Davis’s All Blues) and trigger the same pleasures and frustrations as that 2010 concert.
Among the pleasures of hearing this band are the fact that it offers a rare opportunity to hear 1920s Ellington being played so expertly and enthusiastically. Its slick, exhilarating ensemble playing – especially when trios of clarinets, saxes or trumpets are featured playing in unison (as happens so often, to thrilling effect, on such early Ellington numbers as East St Louis Toodle-Oo and Hot and Bothered) – was a particular delight, and there were some ace solos, not least by star clarinettist Bert Brandsma.
Barber himself, now 84 and in a wheelchair, played some memorable solos when the spotlight (the stylish lighting also added to the concert’s classiness) was on him but, unfortunately, the tear-your-hair-out frustration of being an audience member at one of his concerts was still very much present: it’s nigh-on impossible to make out 90% of what he says because of his rushed delivery. And what makes it even more infuriating is that the 10% that was intelligible was funny and/or fascinating.
First published in The Herald, Monday July 21st