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Strictly Smokin' Big Band: Strictly Smokin' & Friends

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Strictly Smokin' Big Band: Strictly Smokin' & Friends
They can be stuffy and old-fashioned. That is the view that many, especially the younger demographic, have about big bands. Making serious headway into changing those perceptions is Michael Lamb. He is the main composer, arranger and trumpeter for the Strictly Smokin' Big Band. He set up the band in 2003 and they have steadily developed to be the top big band in the North East of England and one of the most exciting in the UK.

What makes them different and attractive to a younger generation? They are unusual in that they strive against common presumptions and invest in getting the audience to participate. They present themselves differently with visual backdrops and add theatrical elements reflecting the music they are performing. They also embrace modern technology in their use of YouTube and social media to support their crowdfunding site. They encourage participation by offering sleeve mentions and pre-release downloads. This is the third album that they have funded in this way.

Lamb's work is in demand for TV and he has recorded for films as diverse as Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. Joining the 19-strong band are special guests for each track, providing the album with the title Strictly Smokin' & Friends. A different guest features on each of the nine tracks and specific band members are also given prominence.

The opening track is Sigmund Romberg's "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." Originally from the 1928 operetta The New Moon, the song has become a jazz standard. The song features solos from guest trumpeter Mike Lovatt as well as from Lamb, Gordon Marshall and Pete Tanton. This compelling and tight arrangement has all five trumpets playing the head and swings fabulously along the way to a terrific ending. Ross Stanley's organ playing builds into a neat groove on Sonny Clark's "Cool Struttin'" with razor-sharp horn interjections and a sax solo from Jamie Toms. Polly Gibbons gives a standout vocal performance on "Love for Sale," providing a fresh vibrancy to the well-worn tune. Her expressive vocals rub alongside a creative solo on alto sax from Steve Summers and neat percussion from Guy Swinton.

The first-class trombonist Mark Nightingale ensures there is swing in abundance in an agile rendition of "Sweet and Lovely." Bruce Adams brings his cornet virtuosity to a sassy and expansive version of "Pete Kelly's Blues." Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care" features seemingly effortless vocals from Anthony Strong. He is supported by a fine solo from Keith Robinson on sax.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole recording is Gareth Lockrane's cornet on George Duke's "Daisy Mae." The track shows how versatile a big band can be as they groove comfortably through this infectious arrangement of '70s funk. Alan Barnes leads the band's sax attack in Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" before Paul Booth's insistent soprano sax phrases, together with great support from bassist Michael Whent, closes the album with Booth's pulsing composition, "Twitterbug Waltz."

Buoyant up-tempo grooves, strong ensemble work and engaging arrangements make this an exemplary big band recording. The band is as hot as their name implies and their guests add a fresh coat of paint where needed to add gloss to these well-known tunes, making this a thoroughly enjoyable outing for all generations.

Track Listing

Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Cool Struttin'; Love For Sale; Sweet & Lovely; Pete Kelly's Blues; Devil May Care; Daisy Mae; Airegin; Twitterbug Waltz.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Ross Stanley: organ (2); Bruce Adams: cornet (5); Gareth Lockrane: cornet (7); Dave Kerridge: tenor saxophone (1-9); Sue Ferris: bass clarinet (1-9); Dave Hignett: trumpet (1-9); Mark Ferris: trombone (1-9); Chris Kurji-Smith: trombone (1-9); John Flood: trombone (1-9); Chris Gray: trombone (1-9); Pawel Jedrzejewski: guitar (1-9).

Album information

Title: Strictly Smokin' & Friends | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Self Produced


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