Having heard most of the outstanding service bands in this country, I expected far more from Great Britain’s leading ensemble, the RAF Squadronaires, than it delivers on Flying Home . . . To give the airmen their due, they are never less than well–rehearsed and professional; perhaps too much so. Performing for the most part songs made popular by such legendary American big bands as Basie, Ellington, Herman, Goodman, Miller, Barnet, Lunceford, Buddy Rich and the like, they have produced an album of swing / dance / Jazz that, compared to the music on which it is based, is largely flat and antiseptic. The cause certainly isn’t helped by uninspiring vocals from Matthew Little (“Night and Day,” “Mack the Knife”) and Emer McParland (“That Old Black Magic,” “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear from Me”), whether on their own or together (“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”). On the other hand, the Squadronaires fly solo on no less than a dozen tracks, and it is on their shoulders that much of the responsibility for the outcome must rest. The problems surface immediately on a curiously subdued reading of Herman’s fire–breathing “Apple Honey,” and things don’t get appreciably better after that. In every instance the Squadronaires, burnished as they are, can’t come close to producing the energy or excitement of the originals. Of course, we’re talking classics here, and one shouldn’t expect the Squadronaires or anyone else to improve on Basie, Herman or the others. What should be anticipated is an earnest effort to do so, and that is what appears to be lacking here. Only two presumptions seem warranted — either the ensemble is going through the motions or that’s the best it has to offer. Whatever the reason, on Flying Home . . . the Squadronaires have failed to reach a comfortable cruising altitude and landed well short of their time–honored tradition of excellence, which dates to 1939. Let us hope that their next flight, whenever it takes place, will prove more successful.
Contact: Blue Sky Records, HQMS, RAF Uxbridge, Middlesex UB10 0RZ, United Kingdom. Web site, www.rafmusic.co.uk
Track Listing: There
Personnel: Wing Cmdr Rob Wiffin, director; Chief Tech Richard Skelton, leader; Sgt Jamie Deighton, Cpl Phil Wayman, alto sax; Sgt Steve Watson, Cpl Philip Mercer, tenor sax; Cpl Gary Cooney, baritone sax; Chief Tech Geoff Lawrence, Cpl Gary Wyatt, Cpl Lee Vivian, Cpl Clive King, trumpet; Chief Tech Richard Skelton, Cpl Andy Watson, Jr Tech Piers Morrell, trombone; Sgt Frank Shelley, bass trombone; Cpl Adrian Beckwith, keyboards; Chief Tech Grant Charleston, guitar; Jr Tech Robin Wood, bass guitar; Cpl Kev Miles, drums; Sgt Paul Craggs, percussion; Cpl. Matthew Little, Emer McParland, vocals.