For those of us familiar with the sound of a big band, this performance was the expected delight, with all of the strengths of a big band to the fore: power, precision, variety and countless highlights by individual musicians.
There has been a resurgence of big bands in recent years, which broadly represent the span of musical developments in the decades since the heyday of swing music—from recreations of iconic bands to wilder (and some would say, more forward-looking) groups. Although Manhattan Sound largely play standards and big band favorites (Basie; Kenton; Buddy Rich), this is not a nostalgia outfit: their specialty is in playing modern arrangements—a fine balance between old and new. Their sheer power and propulsion are wonderful, but so too is the harmonic novelty they can bring even to the most familiar number.
Singer Nicki Allan was on fine form. The fashionable trend for wispy, whispery vocals can work on recordings, but not in front of a live band at full throttle. She had strength throughout her register and was able to give voice to the various songs’ melancholy, joy and raw feeling. This was high-caliber musicianship.
The unison playing by the band—again, much abetted by the arrangements—provided some thrilling moments, not least when the baritone set an infectious line for the rest of the saxophones to follow; and later, a ‘tiered’ break which had each of the sections—saxophones, trombones, trumpets—play in sequence had the effect of a good solo. And there were plenty of solos, too: the trumpets didn’t have much rest; and there was an extended, two-tenor solo. And the drummer certainly needs no instruction in how drive a big band! Overall, the tempo of the evening was set by the number and variety of tunes played: against the trend of very lengthy numbers, we were treated to a succession of relatively short numbers so that over the course of the evening, nearly every facet of this fine band was shown to advantage.
There is no shortage of positive things to say about this band, but on the night, no one felt the need to articulate them: the pleasure this full house shared was palpable.
J Whitman 30.01.16