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The Royal Air Force Squadronaires And Todd Gordon: Helping The Heroes

Ian Patterson By

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One of the UK's premiere big bands, the Royal Air Force Squadronaires' roots date to 1939 when some of London's top jazz and dance band musicians were recruited to form the Royal Air Force Dance Orchestra, more popularly known as the Squadronaires. The band toured war-torn Europe to raise troop morale following the Allied Normandy Landings in 1944, and though it seems like fiction, it was heading for Germany before a German counter-offensive pushed the Allied forces—and the Squadronaires—back to Paris.

Almost as unlikely was the RAFS' Top 10 UK album success with In the Mood (Decca, 2010). The success of that Glenn Miller tribute—which has sold almost 100,000 copies—meant that, once again, the RAFS became a household name 70 years after its first recording for Decca. The RAFS celebrated In the Mood's launch at Ronnie Scott's, and have the unique distinction of being the only military band ever to perform at the legendary London jazz club.

Two years on, the RAFS big band provides truly swinging support for vocalist Todd Gordon who features on each of the 14 tracks, six of which are duets with some of the UK's top jazz singers. The recording is in support of Helping the Heroes, a charity that provides support for wounded or sick UK services personnel, veterans and their families.

Gordon is heavily influenced by Frank Sinatra, but the warmth of his tone and his acute sense of timing make for enjoyable listening. Oldies these numbers may be, but there's no escaping the pizzazz of the performances. The opening two minutes of "(I've Got a Gal) in Kalamazoo" swing with the joy of bandleader Louis Jordan's infectious jump blues, and would be best heard live in a venue with the seating removed. The soloists throughout are impressive but unfortunately not credited, perhaps fitting in a way as the collective voice is as much the star of the show as Gordon.

The duet numbers are charming. Clare Teal is teasingly coy on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," while Eddie Reader's gentle bluesy delivery freshens up "Let's Do It"; Carol Kidd and Gordon sound like lovers strolling Central Park on "Autumn in New York"; Jacqui Dankworth on "Manhattan," Janet Seidel on "They Can't Take That Away from Me" and Horse (Sheena McDonald) on "Cheek to Cheek" all bring something personal to the mix in sparkling performances.

Gordon shines on the Tony Bennett signature tune "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," though less successful is "My Favorite Things," which lacks the punch that characterizes the arrangements elsewhere. At a slower lick, Gordon's velvety pipes seduce on the delightfully swinging "The Summer Wind." There's real panache to Gordon's delivery on "Evergreen," "The Best is Yet to Come" and the set closer "Come Back to Me," though the RAFS shares the podium with wonderfully vibrant playing.

Helping the Heroes is a fine showcase for Gordon and the RAFS. These stirring big band numbers should also rekindle for a good many, the passion for music that may be from a bygone era, but when delivered with such energy, continues to delight to this day.

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).

Title: Helping The Heroes | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Specific Jazz

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