Sunday, 27 February 2011

Simply Big Band - Sheffield City Hall

Conductor: Steve Parr

Reviwer: Audrey Pointer


Simply Big Band is more than simply big band. It is a flashy two hour mix of music, song and dance, complimented by archive big screen footage, which promises the audience “a dazzling roller coaster ride through the golden age of the American big band”. The production features an energetic dance troupe alongside a 26-piece orchestra and female vocalist SuEyo, and is compered by singer, Iain McKenzie. The show is touring the UK throughout 2010 and 2011 with upcoming dates in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The band consists of three sections. The rhythm section sits centre stage, featuring five talented performers on piano, electric guitar, percussion, double bass and drums. Each gets the chance to do impressive solos during the show. This is very much the musical engine of the band. On the right is the thirteen piece brass section, the section that gives the music its warmth, attitude, sexiness and flare. Many of these players get the chance to solo too and they do so with aplomb, rising to the challenge well. On the left is an eight piece string section who are not employed quite as much as the other sections and sometimes seem like part of the audience, gazing in awe at the nimble bravado of their fellow blowers, strikers and pluckers. Band leader Steve Parry also deserves a mention, both for his conducting and his stunning virtuoso trumpet playing.

The six dancers, four girls and two boys ably choreographed by one of the dancers, Lizzie Sianni, wear a colourful range of costumes to suit several different numbers from different time periods ranging from the thirties through to the sixties. The sound balance is pretty good in the main, although kinder to the strings when the brass boys are tacet. Lighting, at least in Sheffield's City Hall, seemed fairly basic, with no follow-spots on the singers, and occasions where some dance action was in relative darkness, although this may well vary at different venues.

Singer Iain McKenzie and Sueyo, his female counterpart, croon their way through a broad range of standards, individually and together with duets, including "A Tisket A Tasket", "Let's Face the Music and Dance", "Georgia", "Fever", "Minnie the Moocher", "Mercy" and "It Don't Mean a Thing". The show paints a musical tapestry of several decades, taking in Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and The Beatles, amongst others.

Michael Parkinson complained recently that there wasn't much big band on TV or radio any more. This appreciative Sheffield audience had paid large ticket prices for tonight's show and although there were many empty seats in this beautiful venue (The Irwin Mitchell Oval Hall), those who came certainly did not seem disappointed. This tour will help to fill a need for those who enjoy big band, or are simply curious to widen their musical horizons, but a spectacle like this is expensive to produce and therefore tickets are pricier. Certainly the contemporary music CD played in the interval and pre-show seemed bland in comparison with the remarkable, thrilling, multi-dimensional sound of Simply Big Band. Well worth catching if you can.

Reviewed on 26th Feb 2011 - Runs until: Tour continues in July
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