5 November 2011

Big Bluesy Band

The chalk and cheese saga continued when I attended the Loft for the full New Sheik experience. Leigh Barker’s full band was there for a night of swinging, down-home dirty bluesy, hollerin’ jazz and it was great. This is a very good band playing music of an era that is is variously touching and refreshing and enlivening to visit. This is Billie Holiday passion, Ellingtonian intellect, Fats Waller bounce, blues growl and corn field holler. Great fun, touching or entertaining lyrics, and the biggest audience I’ve seen at the Loft. It’s an era that entertains and has a following, and this band does the job of promotion and can tickle an audience so deserve the following.

Leigh Barker is the new sheik himself, leading the band from his surprisingly loud unamplified bass (I’m pretty sure even this gig was not amplified). Quipping with the audience and choosing tunes at whim for the gig and the recording that was in train. Heather Stewart is the vocalist up front who also doubles on classically-trained, but down-home violin-cum-fiddle. She’s wonderfully touching when singing Billie Holliday and nicely growling on the blues. Both the horns, Eamon McNellis and Don Stewart were blow-outs. They both display a love of the older styles of jazz, so their solos are delicious and lively diatonic explorations of the chord structure, their playing includes the growls and glissandoes and tonguing that shout New Orleans, their harmonised backing licks are neat and clean and their collective improvisation was intelligent and together. And it wasn’t just old style: I noticed Eamon breaking from sweet diatonics into dissonance several times, but he’d equally sit easily on the most minimal of melodies and drain it for its beauty. And what lovely brassy tones they each had: clean, rounded, nicely articulated. Matt Boden led a few tunes in trio or smaller formats. I loved his simple statements and correct, clear interpretations of the underlying harmonies. And Al McGrath-Kerr was introduced as the band member with the longest name (the band was described as the “least single band I’ve even been in … in case anyone’s getting any ideas”). Al was open and quite minimal, dropping into loping marches or playing with rudiments and rolls.

I love Ellington’s Come Sunday, so that was a delight when they played it as a violin-led quartet. Billie Holliday featured in I must have that man and again in Moonlight and you and you could do nothing but empathise with the desperation. There weer joysome blues, often with the guys in the band hollerin’ responses to Heather’s calls. They played a Tom Vincent original, Big Creek wedding, with a cyclic, songbook structure. Nice to see our players playing tunes by their mates: we don’t just have to play the Real Book. There was an Appalachian fiddle tune that they jazzed up into swinging solos, and a blues tune that the audience voted for, Driving Ducks Blues. And the wit of Fats Waller’s Write myself a letter.

So, a busy night at the Loft, lots of fun, lots of good playing, lots of history and wit and a touch of nostalgia. And the night was recorded in the current full-bore, multitrack recording series that ArtSound is involved in, so we might hear it someday as a CD. I for one loved it. The New Sheiks are Leigh Barker (bass), Eamon McNelis (trumpet), Don Stewart (trombone), Matt Boden (piano), Al McGrath-Kerr (drums) with Heather Stewart (vocals, violin).

1 comment:

whisperinggums said...

I was so sorry to have missed this concert but had a clash ... but I do have their CD which I like a lot so I can imagine what it must have been like live.