Mark Nightingale's Big Band Go Large At Watermill's 25th Birthday Bonanza



Trombonist Mark Nightingale is the most accommodating of virtuosi. He’ll turn up in any number of situations: small jazz groups, big bands, commercial orchestras, and everywhere he goes he gives his all. Here though, he was the master of all he surveyed: a big band stuffed to the gunnels with crack players in front of a house-full audience and performing a programme that was entirely his own. Every piece was composed or arranged by him and at its core, a special commission to celebrate Watermill’s 25th anniversary as Dorking's premier week-in, week-out jazz club.

First though, there was the opening salvo of cleverly devised originals and standards, Nightingale’s re-working of Pat Metheny’s ‘Timeline’ revealing his gift for smart patterns and sudden trumpet flourishes, with a rumbustious solo from tenorist Paul Booth. ‘But Not for Me’ opened with, what else, a trombone chorale before the groove built by drummer Matt Skelton’s morphed into three-flute softness ahead of Nightingale’s robust theme statement and some swinging brass mayhem. Trumpeter Martin Shaw dusted down his flugelhorn for ‘Just Once More’, a pretty ballad feature ahead of ‘A Gentle Man’, a medium tempo exercise originally conceived for a student big band and here adorned by another peachy trombone chorale with more from Booth and Shaw. Juan Tizol’s ‘Caravan’ closed the first half via an array of soloists: altoist Sammy Mayne, baritone man Martin Williams, tenorist Graeme Blevins and trombonist Richard Edwards, their efforts book-ended by a wonderful sax soli sparked by Andy Panayi’s soprano as the icing on this particular cake.

Nightingale’s re-run of Jerome Kern’s ‘Nobody Else But Me’ allowed Panayi to excel on alto followed by a new commission based on Frank Rosolino’s version of ‘Don’t Take Your Love From Me’, with an a cappella trombone chorale for starters, yet more in-and-out complexity from the sax section and Nightingale unleashing his inner-tearaway in blistering fashion. He introduced the much-awaited Dorking commission as ‘Silver Samba’, explaining it as a series of juxtapositions of the notes A and G which handily combine to represent silver in the Periodic Table of Elements. The result was a jubilant and wholly celebratory piece, jaunty and fast-moving with Andy Wood’s fervent trombone and Panayi's flute as the principal solo adornments. Smiles all round.

Closing with a serene chart on ''Round Midnight, voiced by four clarinets and bass-clarinet and then a two-tier tribute to the late Urbie Green, one part pretty ballad, the other totally ‘raunchy’, Mark’s word for it, and a final surprise with veteran trombonist Cliff Hardie emerging from the audience to vocalise affectingly on Mark’s version of ‘The Summer Wind’. Big day, big band, big outcomes: Watermill overjoyed.

Peter Vacher
– Photo by Brian O'Connor