Tonight’s performance by Durham University Big Band was a welcome escape from the tense political atmosphere surrounding the election. The ensemble didn’t fail to provide festive spirit, with both their jazzy Christmas arrangements and array of Christmas jumpers. Making the concert extra special, the group were also raising money for the charity ‘Family Action’, who support young carers around Durham.
The concert kicked off to a strong start with an arrangement of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, featuring the vocals of Rob Singleton, whose charismatic stage presence generated a great atmosphere. Following this was ‘Bemsha Swing’, which highlighted the vast amount of talent amongst the ensemble members through a number of solos. Particularly impressive was the well sculpted solo of Alex Hayward-Vyse on the alto sax.
The next arrangement, ‘Let it Ride’ featured the vocalist, Evie Hill, supported by dynamically sensitive drum and trombone lines. Unfortunately, she was occasionally overpowered by the volume of the band. The next piece, ‘Winter Wonderland’ made use of the impressive five-part saxophone section, who perfectly executed tight stabs.
The band then welcomed Evie back to the stage who sang Chris Jones’ arrangement of ‘Fall in love’. This began with an impressive trombone opening and featured another great solo by Ales Hayward-Vyse. The ensemble executed seamless transitions between sections, and the piece ended with Evie’s sensitive vocals. The next arrangement, ‘Joy to the World’ had a distinctly Latin vibe. The playing of Matt Bartlett shone especially in this piece, with his very well-rounded soprano saxophone solo which could only have been improved by slightly better microphone placing.
‘Let it Snow’ saw Evie Hill return, as well another fantastic trombone solo from Chris Chung. There was slight miscommunication between the bass guitar and vocals in the introduction, but this was handled and recovered well by Evie. Rounding off the first half of the concert was the piece, ‘Just Friends’, featuring another trombone solo from Chris Chung, who managed to show off the full range of the instrument whilst remaining beautifully sensitive. There were a few missed accidentals in the exposed trombone section, however their performance was very strong overall. Towards the end of the piece, Alex Hayward-Vyse impressed the audience with another incredible solo, a very pleasing way to end the first half.
The second half opened with a tight saxophone quintet leading into ‘God rest ye merry Gentlemen’. This could have been a lot more dynamically delicate, but it was rhythmically, and harmonically sound. The bass and baritone saxophone were knitted very well together. Three well executed solos were weaved between some outstanding ensemble playing to finish.
Next up was Pete Wheeler, a Jacob Mann classic, and therefore infamously difficult. Big band held their own, with a wonderful saxophone intro. The piece itself is so rhythmically complicated so kudos to the whole band, but especially the rhythm section. Alex Wardill (Baritone Sax) and Isaac Merchant (Bass Guitar) held down an extremely syncopated bass line
‘15 Step’ started in a tight 5/4 beat. Chris Chung pulled out another fantastic solo, followed by James Petley, whose solo was extremely well structured and played well against the accompaniment. The piece came to a jarring change, which was adeptly executed by Ben Lawrence.
Always and Forever was one of the highlights of the night for me. Honor Hornsby’s Flugelhorn playing was a fantastic change in pace. The ensemble could have provided more room for her to ring through the texture during the introduction, but they warmed into this, building a wonderful blend for the rest of the piece. Then the singers came back on for a wonderful arrangement of “Ah Yeah”, with Matt Bartlett playing a tender and well-shaped solo.
Jingle Bells opened with an extremely low solo from Peter Fewster on Bass trombone. The stabs throughout this piece were tight, and Peter finished off confidently with an impossibly low bass note. I didn’t think that note was possible, so some high praise for this. Rob and Evie returned for a charming and charismatic performance of the Christmas classic “Baby it’s cold outside”. Again, the ensemble was extremely tight throughout, with a particularly tasty triplet fill to finish on.
The end of the evening was upon us. The saxophone section took out 2 sopranos and 2 clarinets, so this was bound to be fantastic. The group dexterously executed the rhythm changes from 7/8 to 6/8 back to 4/4. The solos were particularly good here. Honor played another fantastic flugelhorn solo, passing the baton onto Mikey Young for a burst of rhythmic brilliance, followed by a soprano sax solo by Matt Bartlett. A fantastic performance.
Big Band decide to play an encore of Love for Sale, featuring tasteful solos from Tom Burgess and Ben Lawrence. The trumpets, trombones, and saxophones weaved beautifully together, creating a perfect texture, followed by a final solo by Matt Bartlett. The evening closed with a tasteful lick from Tom Burgess and the room filled with applause.
Mollie Lewis and Charlie Fletcher