Grand Bal Swing: The Espirit Jazz Big Band swing the Irish Cultural Centre, Paris

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On their arrival at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris for the penultimate afternoon of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival 2015, every attendee sported a wide smile: In the courtyard of this unique venue playing host to ‘Grand Bal Swing’ for the third year running, palpable excitement was mounting for the swing jazz extravaganza that was to come.

The Espirit Jazz Big Band comprises 13 musicians: director, Jean-Pierre Solvès on saxophone and flute; Joël Chausse, Tony Russo and Yves Le Carboulec on trumpets; Jean-Christophe Vilain, Jean-Louis Damant and Damien Verhervé on trombones; Roland Seihes and François Chambert on saxophones and flutes; Stéphane Chausse on saxophone and clarinet; Claude Terranova on piano; Marc-Michel Le Bévillon on double bass, and François Laudet on drums.

They were joined by French crooner Marc Thomas and Irish guest, Peter Browne on accordion for a slick gambol through jazz standards from the 1930s and 40s made famous by the American orchestras of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.

From the dramatic opening bars of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, it was obvious that we were in the presence of a superlatively tight big band: There was an easy rapport between big band specialist drummer, Laudet and Le Bévillon, who kissed the scroll of his double bass in a show of sheer exuberance.

George and Ira Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ featured Vilain’s solo trombone melody above a slidey sea of brass accompaniment and Le Bévillon’s solid walking bass. These contrasted pleasingly with Solvès’s more twittery baritone solo and Terranova’s Count Basie-style riff on a single note.

A regular performer in the jazz caves of Paris, Marc Thomas’s voice sounded like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong on favourites such as ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’. He got everyone clapping during ‘All Of Me’, and the floor began to fill with costumed dancers spanning the generations doing the Lindy Hop, in spite of the of rain.

‘Caravan’ was an arrangement packed with humour and grace, with its quirky discordant close harmony supported by syncopated stabs by Solvès on the baritone saxophone that were then taken up by the double bass.

Peter Browne made an all too brief appearance: Originally from Dublin, he has toured the world working with top musicians. The sweet sound of his accordion combined well with the harsher sound of the saxophones and added a ‘Edith Piaf era’ Parisian flavour to ‘Take the ‘A’ Train’ – the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. After the interval, he and the orchestra played a traditional Irish folk song, which provided a refreshing twist.

By the Glenn Miller hit, ‘In The Mood’ encore - following more classics from the inexhaustible band and singer, Thomas, the dance floor was teeming, new friends, and great memories were being made.

– Gemma Boyd