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Monday, December 07, 2015

New Century Ragtime Orchestra @ The Black Bull – Dec 6

(Review by Russell/Photos courtesy of Roly.)
In the first of two concerts during December at the Black Bull the New Century Ragtime Orchestra made its Blaydon Jazz Club debut. Any fears that Dave Kerr’s outfit would be too big to fit onto the compact stage were quickly dispelled. NCRO music stands skirted front of stage, musicians cheek by jowl, either side of Steve Doyle’s weather-beaten bass drum. Vocalist Caroline Irwin sat off stage, periodically taking to the floor in front of the band to sing a selection of songs. Master of ceremonies Steve Andrews likewise opted to sit with a pint listening to his band mates, rising to regale the audience with his scholarly – and frequently hilarious – observations of the classic jazz era, its composers, musicians and larger than life characters.
Sweet Jennie Lee and A Ragtime Dance confirmed keys, valves and fingers were in good order and Caroline Irwin likewise confirmed her vocal chords were up to it (lubricated by a glass of Deuchar’s) singing a brace of tunes including Am I Blue? Neville Hartley made his trombone presence known on a number associated with the Fletcher Henderson band – the wonderfully titled What-Cha-Call-‘Em Blues.
A 1903 number (early period for the New Century, some nineteenth century material is in the book) Belle of the Philippines composed by Fred F Stone had Andrews wondering out loud…What did the initial F stand for? Diligent research by Kerr and the boys solved the mystery. It couldn’t be anything other than ‘Flint’! A two-trumpet feature for the bearded Graham Hardy and the clean shaven Alistair Lord – Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home – with the band’s ‘boy’ vocalist Jim McBriarty in the spotlight, met with audience approval.
Twenty-something pianist Ian Wynne took centre-stage (for reasons of on-stage logistics he remained exactly where he was) with a piano solo feature on James P Johnson’s Mule Walk Stomp. The Black Bull crowd loved it. Quite right, too!
Second set highlights were many. A hot take on The Terror (Cliff Jackson and his Crazy Cats circa 1930) upped the ante and Ms Irwin responded with I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby and the arresting Get Out and Get Under the Moon (Graham Hardy with a fine muted contribution). The band’s latest recording – Singing in the Bathtub – was all but certain to get a mention (it did, more than once, yours for a tenner) and Mr McBriarty duly sang the eponymous number. Ellington’s Black Beauty heard the muted Hardy and plungered Hartley. The oddly titled Crazy Quilt exemplified the band’s collective talents – across all sections – in making light of yet another exacting arrangement.
MC Andrews sought to make comparison between a hirsute Graham Hardy and Henry Red Allen. The bearded Hardy doesn’t physically resemble Allen, doesn’t speak with an American accent…Andrews was struggling, the audience laughing. Perhaps best to let a fine trumpet player do the talking, musically speaking (with one verse from vocalist Jim McBriarty), on Patrol Wagon Blues. Mark it down as the highlight of the evening.
The rhythm section – Keith Stephen, Phil Rutherford and Steve Doyle – (and band) sent us on our way with a rabble-rousing take on Limehouse Blues. Dave Kerr’s New Century Ragtime Orchestra is an amazing project, a labour of love for those involved. On leaving the Black Bull someone said the band, without a guest star, is the way to hear the band. A moot point, but well made. What made this gig work so well was the against-the-odds set up of a larger ensemble performing in a small space in close proximity to the audience. A return visit would be most welcome.
Blaydon Jazz Club’s Christmas party night – Sunday Dec 20th – is an annual occasion in the dairy of all Black Bull regulars. This year’s concert will feature the BB Trio – Jeremy McMurray, Roly Veitch and Neil Harland with special guest James Birkett. The music, of course, will be first rate and with an interval buffet to tuck into there couldn’t be a better way to end another year of great jazz at the Black Bull. It’s an eight o’clock start and feel free to bring a small culinary contribution to the buffet. 
Photos.             
Russell.
Steve Andrews (MC, tenor saxophone & clarinet),  Jim McBriarty (alto saxophone, clarinet & vocals), Alan Marshall (tenor & alto saxophones, clarinet), Gavin Lee (tenor saxophone & clarinet), Graham Hardy (trumpet), Alistair Lord (trumpet), Neville Hartley (trombone), Ed Cross (violin), Keith Stephen (guitar & banjo), Ian Wynne (piano), Phil Rutherford (sousaphone), Steve Doyle (drums) & Caroline Irwin (vocals)

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