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Bebop Spoken Here | Album review: Strictly Smokin' Big Band - Strictly Smokin' & Friends (Jazz Sound Records JSR 0019)

Updated: Apr 22

SSBB can hold their own with just about any big band past, present and, probably, future. A bold statement I know but, if you've heard the band live in recent years, I don't think many of you will argue. However, there have been occasions when they've surpassed even themselves as this album proves.

A couple of times a year they bring in a 'hired gun' from out of the area - trombonist Dennis Rollins was the most recent one - to be featured with the band. Rollins' concert came after the recording was made so he isn't on the album. 

The ones who did make the cut are listed below and each of the nine musicians are showcased individually although some of the home team players also have short solos.

Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise: A feature for Mike Lovatt, on an arrangement first played at the then Sage Gateshead in 2020. Apart from Lovatt's solo there are contributions from (the late) Gordon Marshall, Pete Tanton and Michael Lamb. All five trumpets play the head as a soli.

Cool Struttin': Mention the late American pianist Sonny Clarke and the chances are his legendary Blue Note recording of  Cool Struttin' will be referred to, and rightly so. Mention UK jazz organists and there's a very strong chance that Ross Stanley, will be referred to, and rightly so. Combine Clarke's tune with the blistering Hammond sound and it's game on. Jamie Toms tenor solo doesn't do any harm either!

Love For Sale: Any singer, doing a live gig with SSBB has to be on top form otherwise they run the risk of being shaded by the band's own chanteuse Alice Grace. On this track Polly Gibbons, who was featured with the band at Hoochie in 2018, proves that she can fear no one. Steve Summers plays a swinging alto solo as well as trading choruses with Polly.

Sweet and Lovely: One of the albums' nine great arrangements by Michael Lamb. A tune that isn't heard often enough. Here it provides the foundation for world-class trombonist Mark Nightingale, headliner in 2019, to exercise his chops with the taste and technique for which he's renowned. The whole band rose to the occasion when trading 'shouts' with him.

Pete Kelly's Blues: Bruce Adams, surprisingly, on cornet here, is my favourite UK brass player bringing a new lease of life to the song that Ella sang in the film of the same name. It'a blast! It brings back memories of hearing Bruce with SSBB at the Globe in 2017. He was sensational then and, even on cornet as opposed to his more often used trumpet, he still is.

Devil May Care: Powerful vocal from Anthony Strong who, back in 2015, was featured with the band at Hoochie. Strong was, I believe, SSBB's first 'name' and he set the bar for those that followed. It was a high bar. On this track, Keith  Robinson's alto solo successfully executes a musical Fosbury Flop with an excellent solo.

Daisy Mae: A virtuoso performance by flautist Gareth Lochrane on a piece by George Duke. Lochrane never actually played a live session with Strictly Smokin' although the idea was discussed and may yet take place sometime in the future. On the strength of this track it will be worth waiting for.

Airegin: A few years back Ushaw College, near Durham, hosted several jazz concerts including an annual jazz festival. Despite being somewhat off the beaten track, it was always worth testing your navigational skills particularly when the prize was hearing Alan Barnes in a variety of guises - musical and otherwise. A storming session with SSBB was one of the many highlights. This version of Sonny Rollins' Airegiin brings to mind the spirit of the iconic Art Pepper + Eleven album. There's an amazing six sax soli as well as some fine trumpet playing from Pete Tanton.

Twitterbug Waltz: An original by Paul Booth rounds off the album. Booth cut his teeth and developed his saxophone chops in the north east before moving south and becoming an A-list musician in the process. He is at the top of his game. The track also has solid support from Whent and Swinton who help to bring the album to an explosive close. 

The release date for the album is May 17 which is also the date of the launch concert at the Fire Station in Sunderland. This will be a very special evening as, alongside SSBB will be Bruce Adams, Alan Barnes and Paul Booth! Book now. 

I know we often describe gigs as 'unmissable' and occasionally (very occasionally) fate decrees them to turn out to be very 'missable'. Well take my word for it - both the concert and the album will most definitely be UNMISSABLE!

~ Lance 

Michael Lamb (MD, trumpet, arranger); Dick Stacey, Dave Hignett, Pete Tanton, Gordon Marshall (trumpets); Kieran Parnaby, Mark Ferris, Chris Kurgi-Smith, John Flood, Chris Gray (trombones); Steve Summers, Keith Robinson  (alto sax/flute); Jamie Toms (tenor sax/clarinet); Dave Kerridge  (tenor sax/flute); Sue Ferris (baritone sax/bass clarinet); Graham Don (piano); Pawel  Jedrzejewski (guitar); Michael Whent (bass guitar); Guy Swinton (drums)

Plus, on individual tracks, Michael Lovatt (trumpet); Ross Stanley (organ); Polly Gibbons  (vocal); Mark Nightingale (trombone); Bruce Adams (cornet); Anthony Strong (vocal); Gareth Lochrane (flute); Alan Barnes (alto sax); Paul Booth (soprano sax).

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