As an enthusiastic admirer of Great Britain’s various “youth orchestras,” I’ve often wondered what the members of those ensembles do after “graduation,” so I was delighted to learn that a number of players from the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra’s “over–the–hill–gang” had reassembled to form the high–powered Fat Chops Big Band whose first recording, Frim Fram Sauce, showcases one of that country’s most accomplished Jazz singers, Lee Gibson. Ms. Gibson has an impressive resumé, having performed in clubs and at festivals not only in the UK but around the world and sung with the BBC, Syd Lawrence, Don Lusher, Metropole, UMO, WDR, Francy Boland and Danish Radio big bands among others. She appears on seven of the album’s 13 selections and is a pleasure to hear on each (although, like many Jazz and pop singers, she seems to have something against the letter “r,” at least when it appears at the end of a word). Gibson’s clear soprano is enhanced by her splendid phrasing, excellent range, flawless sense of timing and dynamics and, above all, her uncompromising respect for a lyric. One can’t ask for more than that in any singer. Blend in Fat Chops’ consistently enterprising support and the venture emphatically succeeds in that purpose. The instrumental numbers are generally admirable, although the choice of material is rather uneven (to be honest, Tom Kubis and Bob Mintzer have written far better charts than “Slausen Cut Off” and “Pots and Pans,” respectively). More persuasive are tenor Martin Williams’ bouncy original, “La Muchacha de Columbia,” Bob Curnow’s perceptive arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “Always and Forever” (featuring Andy Shillingford’s alto) and the standards “Laura” (wonderfully scored by Williams) and “Lullaby of the Leaves” (another memorable arrangement, this one by Francy Boland). Returning to Gibson, she’s comfortable and commanding at any tempo, from rapid (“Love for Sale,” “All of You,” “Feeling Groovy”) to unhurried (“A Time for Love,” the Gershwin medley from Porgy and Bess ). But even though she headlines this bill of fare, one suspects that much more will yet be heard from her supporting cast. After such a spectacular debut, Fat Chops seems primed and ready for a starring role of its own.
Track listing: Love for Sale; Lullaby of the Leaves; On a Clear Day; Always and Forever; Gershwin Medley; Slausen Cut Off; All of You; Pots and Pans; A Time for Love; La Muchacha de Columbia; Feeling Groovy; Laura; Frim Fram Sauce (59:26).
John Ruddick Jr., director, trumpet; Lee Gibson, vocals; John Ruddick, Kevin Harcourt, Lyndley Horton, Jason Williams, Georgina Bromilow, trumpet; Ashley Horton, Richard Nield, Carl Sanders, Andy Wood, Paul Boden, Pat Bayliss, Simon Hall, Andy Derrick, trombone; Richard Williams, Andrew Shillingford, Simon Meredith, Don Georgson, alto sax, flute; Martin Williams, Joe Paterson, tenor sax, flute; Chris Davis, baritone sax; Jo Ruddick, piano; Ben Markland, bass; Neil Bullock, drums.