The Royal Air Force Squadronaires And Todd Gordon: Helping The Heroes (2012)
Helping The Heroes, from singer Todd Gordon and the Royal Air Force Squadronaires, has the authentic, swinging, sound of a great big band. The guest singers showcase the range of vocal talent on the UK scene, and the album has its heart fairly and squarely in the right place, too, having been recorded in support of Help For Heroes, a charity which provides support for wounded UK Armed Services personnel and their families.
The repertoire on Helping The Heroes is taken mainly from the Great American Songbook. Gordon's love of Frank Sinatra is apparent in his relaxed, confident approach, well-suited to this repertoire and which works beautifully on the duet numbers. The arrangements, most by musical director David Patrick, ensure that both the band and vocalists get their chances to shine.
The Squadronaires, led by drummer Sgt Kev Miles, must be one of the world's longest-established big bands. It started with the outbreak of World War II in 1939, when some of Britain's finest jazz musicians were recruited to the RAF and joined its Central Band, which evolved into the RAF Dance Orchestra before adopting its current title. The band has appeared at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and has enjoyed Top 20 album success in the UK. The musicians are uniformly excellent (please excuse the pun). Whether it's taking a leaf from Glenn Miller on "(I've Got A Gal) In Kalamazoo," or channeling some of the energy and verve of Count Basie's outfits, this is a top quality jazz ensemble.
There are some excellent solos too, although sadly, the horn soloists aren't credited by name. The players responsible for the mellow saxophone solo on "Autumn In New York," the punchy sax and trumpet solos on "Come Back To Me," the muted trumpet on "They Can't Take That Away From Me," are just a few that deserve a name-check.
As for the vocalists, each one has a distinctive style and approach. There's a strong Scottish contingent: Gordon, Carol Kidd, Eddi Reader (ex-Fairground Attraction) and Horse (a.k.a. Sheena McDonald) are all Scots, though only Reader's cheekily flirtatious vocal gives a hint of this. Gordon is fine on his solo numbers-upbeat swingers like "Come Back To Me" or "I Believe In You" and more lush and romantic songs such as "The Summer Wind"-but the duets really bring him to life.
The duets are unpretentious and fun. The Swingcats lend an authentic vocal feel to "(I've Got A Gal) In Kalamazoo" while bringing out one of Gordon's best performances. Clare Teal joins him for a punchy version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" on which the enjoyment of both singers comes over strongly. Kidd's duet on "Autumn In New York" is romantic and just a little nostalgic-Sgt Adrian Beckwith's piano fits this mood to a tee-while Jacqui Dankworth gets romantic and cosy on "Manhattan," her vocal style and tone providing the best match for Gordon's own.
Helping The Heroes brings some of Britain's finest singers together with one of the country's best big bands. The result is a definitive big band album: dynamic, technically impressive and hugely enjoyable.
Track Listing: (I've Got A Gal In) Kalamazoo; Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?; The Summer Wind; I Left My Heart In San Francisco; Let's Do It; The Best Is Yet To Come; Autumn In New York; I Believe In You; Manhattan; Evergreen; They Can't Take That Away From Me; My Favorite Things; Cheek To Cheek; Come Back To Me.
Personnel: Todd Gordon: vocals; The Royal Air Force Squadronaires: Sgt Kev Miles: leader, drums; SAC Ben Godfrey: trumpet; Sgt Paul Sutton: trumpet; Cpl Michael McGowan: trumpet; SAC Andrew Lofthouse: trumpet; Cpl Steve Bennett: trumpet; Sgt Andy Hooley: saxophone; SAC Mike Hearman: saxophone; SAC Andy Mears: saxophone; Cpl George Martin: saxophone; Chief Technician Suzanne Faithful: saxophone; Cpl Hamish Dean: trombone; SAC Jonathan Pippen: trombone; SAC Jonathan Hill: trombone; SAC Adam Smith: trombone; FS Grant Charleston: guitar; Sgt Adrian Beckwith: piano; Sgt Andy Rigby: bass; The Swingcats: vocals (1); Clare Teal: vocals (2); Eddi Reader; vocals (5); Carol Kidd: vocals (7); Jacqui Dankworth: vocals (9); Janet Seidel: vocals (11); Horse: vocals (13).