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Sunday, December 06, 2015

Will Todd's Mass in Blue @ Newcastle Civic Centre

Newcastle Choral Society Conductor and Musical Director Mark Anyan
The Will Todd Trio (Will Todd – piano; Geth Griffith – bass; Jim Fleeman – drums. With:  Lorna James – soprano (vocal) and Sue Ferris – alto saxophone.
(Review by Hugh C).
My attendance at this performance was a triumph of the power of advertising – having seen the flyer which has been at the top right of Bebop Spoken Here for the past couple of weeks. 
The event was held in the mock baronial splendour of the banqueting suite at Newcastle Civic Centre (Asian weddings a speciality according to the publicity).  This venue proved to have a reasonable acoustic.  The Choral Society sang without amplification; the instrumentalists and the soprano being gently helped by modest electronic enhancement.  The choir seating was tiered and the soprano soloist and MD were raised on a platform, the audience and instrumentalists were all on the level.
I personally was unfamiliar with the work of, Will Todd (despite him being a County Durham lad).  My interest was sparked by the concept of a choral concert with a jazz twist.
Will Todd started to play piano as a child and soon became interested in the chromatic palette offered by twelve bar blues – much to the dismay of his piano teacher!  This, combined with his love of, and participation in, choirs and choral music came to together in Mass in Blue.  Originally written in 2003 as a commission by Hertfordshire Chorus (named Jazz Mass at that initial stage) the Mass has been performed on many occasions both in the UK, Europe and the US – often with the Will Todd Trio.  This success was apparently much to the surprise (and delight) of the composer, who as with many artists, suffered from self-doubt.
Mass in Blue is in the standard liturgical format:  Kyrie – Gloria – Credo – Sanctus – Benedictus – Agnus Dei.  The text is in Latin throughout, but was helpfully printed in full in the programme with an English translation adjacent. 
Each of these involved the Newcastle Choral Society – who appeared to be greatly enjoying themselves.  There was apparently initially some concern among some of the singers that it was too difficult and they had never sung anything in the jazz oeuvre before.  Conscientious practice under the direction of MD, Mark Anyan seemed to have dispelled any of this! 
The trio were on fine form (very familiar territory for them, obviously!) with subtle melodic interplay between the piano in particular and the soprano soloist,  who also often weaved  a virtuoso vocal line around the choral parts – this being beautifully delivered by the very capable Lorna James.
The saxophone part is optional.  I am glad this option was chosen!  Sue Ferris (well known locally as a jazz saxophonist and flautist, but also an orchestral flautist according to the programme notes) delivered a flawless account on alto sax (I must admit I initially thought it was tenor until I saw Sue walking out clutching an alto!).
The Mass contained elements of jazz, blues, gospel, and spiritual (and, I’m sure, others I did not discern).  All in all this was a very interesting and rewarding experience for all present, both choir and audience. 
After the interval we were treated to “Songs for Christmas” – a combination of both sacred and secular items including the old favourites and two audience participation numbers, both delivered with gusto.  There were even a few brave car-key jinglers during Jingle Bells!  The accompaniment (piano mainly, with organ for the audience singing) was ably provided by Mike Dutton  - well known as an accompanist on the local choral and classical vocal scene.
Hugh.

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