Guy Barker is one of an amazing band of professional, creative band leaders and arrangers who seem to be kept busy. Certainly, the Royal Albert Hall was nearly full of people keen to enjoy a taste of Christmas with him.
Alongside a highly professional quasi-orchestral setup, Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas featured guest vocalists Kurt Elling, Vanessa Haynes and Clarke Peters, Soweto Kinch on alto sax and international a capella sensations Accent. Co-host with Barker and adding her touch of great jazz singing was Clare Teal.
There was no extravagant setting – a few twinkly lights and one Christmas tree was enough – there was no escaping the seasonal slant of the tunes chosen and arranged by Barker.
There was every classic – either as an arrangement or woven into one of the many solos through the night. Highlights included Peters performing Louis Prima’s What Will Santa Claus Say (When He Finds Everybody Swingin’) and Teal’s rendition of The Man With The Bag. Incognito vocalist Vanessa Haynes was channeling her inner diva with Merry Christmas Baby and there was more than a touch of humour with Elling/Peters’ romp through the classic Zat You, Santa Claus.
Barker’s career includes stints with everyone from Lena Horne and Frank Sinatra to Gregory Porter, Jamie Cullum and Van Morrison. He arranged music for the acclaimed 1999 film, The Talented Mr Ripley, and has been the musical director for the London Jazz Festival’s opening gala, Jazz Voice, for the past nine years.
Lest anyone forget Barker's pedigree and skills on trumpet, he and Kinch recreated the Parker/Dorham performance of White Christmas from 25 December 1948. Superbly.
A crowd-pleaser was a medley of tunes from Basie, Ellington, Goodman and Dorsey. The evening finished with a full stage in a rousing version of Louis Prima’s Jump, Jive an’ Wail. The audience was on its feet to applaud this entertaining and engaging group of musicians pulled together by Barker to help celebrate Christmas 2016. Here’s to more of the same in December 2017!
Review: Hilary Robertson