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Jools' Big Band takes the limelight for a change,
This review is from: Swinging The Blues, Dancing The Ska (Audio CD)Like many others I have come to look forward to what has become the regular, annual CD from Jools and his Orchestra. After three years of "& Friends" and then the collaboration with Tom Jones I'm especially glad, as an afficianado of the big bands of the 50s, to note that this release throws the spotlight much more on the orchestra and the arrangements that individual members have done for it. It's almost as if they have come out of the closet - no more hiding behind the headline guest vocalist, providing little more than backing - and as a result they sound much more alive and powerful, providing at last a match for my old Heath and Basie albums.
I suspect the reason for this is that, like those legendary bands, this one has been recorded as live - Jools tells us that usually the first or third take was used - and it has been done onto tape initially. Despite the subsequent use of Protools and the necessary digital processing for CD, that "old fashioned" power and dynamism of a great big band has been captured successfully. As Jools also says in his notes, the fact that more or less the same lineup have been playing with him live and on record now for seven years helped enormously.
On to the music itself, which is a mixture of big band blues, jazz, boogie woogie, pop and ska. As I have intimated, it's loud, and nearly all very uptempo - there's scarcely a mid-paced number, let alone a slow ballad. Some are Holland originals, some are very well known, like the excursion into Bob Dylan territory and Solomon Burke's Blues Brothers favourite, and some are less familiar numbers from the likes of Woody Herman, Count Basie and bluesman T-Bone Walker. Scattered throughout are the ska-flavoured tracks which trombonist Rico Rodriguez and saxophonist Michael Rose have come across in their native Jamaica and arranged for the big orchestra. It's impossible to pick out favourites as, despite the fairly relentless pace of things, every track is different and has its own attractions, and Holland's knack of being able to write so well "in the style of..." means that even the originals are not inferior.
Vocals, where applicable, are handled by what are now his "regulars" - Sam Brown, Ruby Turner and Solomon Burke, with one guest appearance by Beverley Knight, who can certainly belt it out with the best of them. Perhaps the only weakness is when Jools himself takes the mike - he's no Difford or Tilbrook, and he sounds as if he's singing in the closet the orchestra have escaped from.
This is a great big band album, one for turning up the volume, giving the hifi a workout, and blowing away the cobwebs.