Saturday, 28 July 2007

Ronnie Scott...

No prizes for guessing the theme in this weekend's two postings, but I like the symmetry anyway.

Ronnie Scott was vastly under rated as a player and always better known as a club owner. I only ever saw him play live twice but both were memorable occasions, jewels etched in the mind as events far greater than 'just another gig'.

Scott's larger than life personality, and of course his ready wit, made his appearances something special. I felt that this CD ultimately showed the difference a great leader can make to a band. Not quite a headless torso, this proficient group nevertheless sound pretty undistinguished without Ronnie...

A Tribute To Ronnie Scott

This Heart Of Mine; Let Me Count The Ways; Tuned Into You; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Excuse Me, Do I Know You?; Carib Blue; Little Tear; Nippon Soul; Back In Love Again; Weaver Of Dreams; Seven Steps To Heaven; Ssh! Ronnie’s Talking.

Pat Crumly (ts, as, f); John Critchinson (p); Leon Clayton (b); Mark Fletcher (d); Martin Drew (d); Georgie Fame (v); Flora Purim (v).
Recorded January 1998.

The idea of a ‘ghost band’ perpetuating the legacy of a late departed leader is not a new one, and is increasingly becoming a growth area, given the large number of well-loved musicians no longer with us. Better known around the world for his entrepreneurial activities than as a tenor saxophonist in the post-Coltrane (via Getz and Mobley) line, Ronnie Scott’s music nevertheless had a sizeable audience. Given that he was so widely admired, the case for this project can easily be made.

This band, nominally led by pianist and long-serving Scott collaborator John Critchinson, emerged late in 1996 while Scott was still alive, and continued to perform after his death. This tribute was recorded early in 1998, and with the club just having celebrated its 45th anniversary, the timing of this release certainly makes commercial sense.

Although never likely to be any substitute for a band with Scott at the helm, the act of remembrance itself is just as important as any music played. Fortunately Critchinson’s quartet and assorted guests also manage to create something worthwhile on its own terms. Pat Crumly is the man with the unenviable task of filling Scott’s shoes, and although preferring alto saxophone for most of the disc, he isn’t afraid to risk inevitable comparisons when switching to tenor.

The beautiful ballads ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ and ‘Weaver Of Dreams’, and the uptempo ‘Excuse Me, Do I Know You?’ and ‘Seven Steps To Heaven’ all show his powerful yet elegant approach to good advantage. When the flute or alto saxophone are his featured instruments the recording inexplicably drifts off course, perhaps a reminder of the great vacuum Scott left behind.

Most of the material will be familiar to those who knew the band, and Scott’s love of Latin music is amply reflected in Flora Purim’s cameo appearance on ‘Little Tear’ and Victor Feldman’s ‘Let Me Count The Ways’. Elsewhere, Martin Drew raises the temperature on two selections and Georgie Fame sings his own composition ‘Tuned Into You’.

The decision to close the tribute with a short recording of Scott rattling off jokes in front of a live audience is a mite contrived, and possibly even exploitative. As a reminder of Scott’s wit and spirit of cheerful optimism in the face of much adversity, it nevertheless provides a fitting form of closure.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2005)

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