Gareth Lockrane’s Big Band blow hard at Ronnie Scott’s

GL-Big-Band

With a Gareth Lockrane gig you always get more than you bargained for: the latest outing of his Big Band at Ronnie’s on Sunday night amounted to two-and-a-half hours of tasty originals, each given an epic 18-piece treatment in front of a packed house. Leading off with the feisty ‘Fist Fight at the Barn Dance’, inspired by one of his late father Eric Lockrane’s powerhouse harmonica riffs, and taking its title from a tune his dad never got round to writing, it was James Gardiner-Bateman who threw the first punch with a riveting solo on soprano sax.

‘Dark Swinger’ was treated to a new intro, with Lockrane lulling us into a false sense of security on flute before they all hared off at twice the tempo with the tune proper and the bandleader unleashed his secret weapon of the evening – one Phil Robson on guitar. Lockrane’s own solo was pleasingly lilting and wayward in equal measure, with a cowboy movie feel to the middle chorus, before he handed over to trumpet supremo Steve Fishwick followed by Neil Sidwell on trombone, nagging away like a trapped bluebottle, then freeing himself with lush deep swathes of sound. After Ryan Trebilcock’s bass solo cleverly notched the tune back to a lazy swing, the band resumed section by section to fire on all cylinders ahead of Tristan Maillot's tumultuous drum solo. Finally, Lockrane called time with a lovely cadenza bringing it back into more mellow territory for the outro, with the horns supplying a steady block of harmony. And breathe. That was just the second number!

Halfway into the first set, there was a shift in mood with the lovely melancholic ballad ‘We’ll Never Meet Again’, which Lockrane plays movingly on bass flute, underpinned on this occasion by horn players Julian Siegel and Graeme Blevins taking up their flutes. There were some immensely satisfying horn soli sections in this piece, and Robson supplied another incredibly inventive guitar solo that really got stuck into the DNA of the tune. Lockrane followed this up with the wildly exotic ‘Aby7inia’, written in 7/4 time and kicking off with a freewheeling riff laced with horn stabs. Robbie Robson (no relation to Phil to my knowledge) delivered a fabulous trumpet solo while the rest of the horns were roving around below, and the whole thing ended with an addictive guitar and bass vamp that could quite easily have gone on for another ten minutes.

They rounded off the first set with the title tune from Gareth’s most recent Grooveyard album, namely ‘The Strut’. This was the moment when Lockrane wheeled out his new toy, an interval effects pedal, which gave this cocky Eddie Harris-inspired tune - and Lockrane’s delicious hallmark sound - a whole new dimension.
In the second set Lockrane premiered a big band version of his tune ‘Surf’s Up’, written after a painful surfing accident. This also employed three flutes to great effect on the head with Ross Stanley switching expertly from piano to Hammond organ and Julian Siegel invited to ride the waves on tenor with a gorgeously risky solo.

Lockrane’s former collaborator and mentor, South African pianist Bheki Mseleku has been a big influence on both his writing and his playing, and this debt is acknowledged in the beautifully driving tribute piece ‘One for Bheki’, which brought out a reflective side to several of Gareth’s talented band members and featured Richard Shepherd briefly on bass clarinet.

Last but not least was a buzzy new arrangement of ‘5B3 Boogie’, which brought the second set to an enthralling close. The band looked happy but spent, folding away their four-foot long sheet music, but the audience was begging for more and got as their final reward an off-the-cuff dash through ‘Dennis Irwin’, with Lockrane ending the night on piccolo - an instrument that surely needs renaming after Lockrane has made it sound anything but small – in fact, he’s pretty single-handedly put the ‘big’ back into big band.

– Sarah Chaplin

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