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A Tribute to Paul Whiteman by Keith Nichols’s Jazz Artists and the Northern Sinfonia

LAKE LACD245 [65:42]

 

 



Because My Baby Don’t Mean Maybe Now
'Taint So Honey
Riverboat Shuffle
Dardanella
Baby Oh Where Can You Be?
That’s My Weakness Now
Changes
Oodles Of Noodles
Singin’ The Blues
So The Blackbirds And The Bluebirds Got Together
San
There Ain’t No Sweet Man
I'm Coming Virginia
Raggin’ The Scale
Oh, Miss Hannah
Louisiana
From Monday On
Bonus Track: Livery Stable Blues
Keith Nichols’ Jazz Artists and the Northern Sinfonia
rec. live at The Sage, Gateshead, July 2006

 

This is exactly what it says it is. It was Dick Sudhalter who re-wrote the original Paul Whiteman scores back in the 1970s, with help from Alan Cohen. The results were unveiled in Britain in 1974. Playing in the band was Keith Nichols, who reconstructed the vocal parts on that occasion, and has now returned to the orchestrations over thirty years later. He’s also worked from original recordings. Sudhalter has also helped by sending over the parts for Rhapsody in Blue - famously premiered of course by Whiteman’s aggregation - and other songs. Unfortunately we don’t hear the Rhapsody here – it would have been intriguing to hear Nichols’s take on it – but we do have sixty-five minutes’ worth of Whiteman.

The concert was a one-off given at The Sage, Gateshead in July 2006. Fortunately a recording team was hurriedly dispatched to capture the occasion on disc. The contributors include members of the Northern Sinfonia – twenty of them – and ten members of Nichols’s Jazz Artists. The Sinfonia string section consists of six violinists, one of whom is Bradley Creswick no less. Alas the leader, Iona Brown, is not the Iona Brown, who died in 2004 though doubtless she’s a fine player in her own right. For one moment I thought we had one of those 1950s superstar New York string sections. The Jazz Artists are drawn from Nichols’s familiar repertory group and include cornet player Andy Woon, taking Bixian honours, Norman Field who assumes the mantle of Trumbauer, alongside Matthias Seuffert in the saxophone section. The bass saxophone is Frans Sjöström and he "does" Min Leibrook. (His Rollini-inspired playing elsewhere on discs is always a joy.) The important trombone chair is taken by Alistair Allan and his impersonation of Bill Rank is first class. The strings include Mike Piggott on violin; the dynamic duo of Messers. Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham take guitar and banjo responsibilities. Nick Ward beats the skins.

The scores sound terrifically well performed. The repertory band would be used to them, at least in the smaller band non-symphonic arrangements but the Sinfonia contingent round out the orchestral sound with depth and aplomb. No leaden stuff.

To give variety there’s a saxophone quartet to play Baby Oh Where Can You Be? Naturally there are plenty of opportunities for the Rhythm Boys to sing – Allan, Nichols, Langham, and Wheatley among them – and less well known songs are interspersed amongst the iconic selection. Of the less well known the virtuoso vehicle Oodles of Noodles, a fast-slow-fast tripartite number, is dispatched with fearsome skill by Seuffert. The sax section is tight in San where violin and guitar are, in the spirit of Venuti and Lang, much to the fore. And it’s in something like There Ain’t No Sweet Man that we can really appreciate the orchestral touches, that booming percussion and the ensemble vitality of these orchestrations. There’s even a Debussyan string introduction to that otherwise ebullient number, From Monday On.

All the soloists acquit themselves very well. Woon bears the brunt with conviction. And the set-up, even a last minute one, has captured the orchestra well. There’s a well-produced and elegant booklet with some splendid photographs. You won’t catch this kind of thing very often – maybe three or four times a century on current form – so maybe rather than waiting you’d prefer to catch up with the recorded evidence.

Jonathan Woolf



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