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Friday, December 06, 2019

CD Review: Strictly Smokin' Big Band - Christmas Live Gosforth Civic Theatre

(Review by Russell)

Live albums are a particular love of your reviewer. Studio perfection is cast aside in favour of capturing the 'one take' moment in front of an audience. The Strictly Smokin' Big Band (from here on 'SSBB') is a band to hear in concert, preferably close up, so close a slide trombone could knock you off your perch. Christmas Live Gosforth Civic Theatre was recorded in December 2018 and its release on the eve of the SSBB's sold out 2019 two-nighter in Gosforth is timely, to say the least. 

This new CD features the first team with a couple of top quality deps drafted in for the occasion. MD Michael Lamb leads from the front on a Sammy Nestico arrangement of Jingle Bells. The standard set, the SSBB, collectively and individually, steps up to the mark and, for those who were there on the night(s), this recording will bring it all flooding back. We thought it was good last year, hearing it on CD confirms it, it was fantastic! 

A double helping of band vocalist Alice Grace - Fascinating Rhythm and a wonderful Time After Time with Jamie Toms soloing on tenor sax - confirms what we already knew, Ms Grace is a star. Joy to the World hears the ensemble at its best with a one-shot top C coda from Dick Stacey and our gum-chewing trumpeter absolutely nails it! MD Lamb, as if he didn't have enough to think about, had the presence of mind to name check his fellow trumpeter: ...and ridiculously high notes from Dick Stacey!

Ms Grace and co-vocalist F'reez have a ball on Winter Wonderland (arr. Callum Au, baritone sax intro Laurie Rangecroft) and again on Last Christmas. The album is a joy to listen to from first note to last, Liam Gaughan's engineering, mastering and mixing (the latter in conjunction with Michael Lamb) of the album are exemplary, and the finale – Fairy Tale of New York - with our vocalists' genial repartee supported by a superb big band makes Christmas Live Gosforth Civic Theatre the ideal Christmas present.        
  
With a playing time of more than forty five minutes across eleven tracks selected from two concert performances (December 14-15, 2018), Christmas Live Gosforth Civic Theatre is an excellent example of what the SSBB is all about. 
Russell

Alice Grace (vocals), F'reez (vocals); Steve Summers, Keith Robinson, Jamie Toms, Matthew Forster, Laurie Rangecroft (reeds); Gordon Marshall, Dick Stacey, Michael Lamb, Pete Tanton (trumpets); Kieran Parnaby, Mark Ferris, Chris Gray, John Flood (trombones); Graham Don (piano); Pawel Jedrzejewski (guitar); Michael Whent (bass guitar); Guy Swinton (drums)

Christmas Live at Gosforth Civic Theatre is available on Jazz Sound Records (catalogue no. JSR010), visit: www.strictly-smokin.co.uk. The album is also available from the band at gigs.    

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