THIS was something fresh and different – and it swung like mad…
The six-strong band That Clarinet Vibe, paying tribute to Benny Goodman and Buddy de Franco, draw most of their repertoire and stylistic inspiration from the 1940s and 50s and many of their numbers are standards. Even so, to hear a front line of two clarinets and vibraphone – without a trumpet or saxophone in sight – came over as highly innovative and was definitely a sonic treat.
The worry beforehand was that we might be getting too much of a good thing.
Julian Mark Stringle and Mark Crooks are fine, endlessly fluent players, but with both of them taking their full quotient of solos, would this just be a wall of clarinet sound? Would there be enough stylistic and tonal difference between the two players?
The differences were subtle, but they were there. In general, Stringle's sound seemed lighter and airier while Crooks's clarinet had a tougher edge. Meanwhile, the sound of two clarinets combined is wonderfully effective and it was good to see that the soloists were so mutually appreciative, smiling with pleasure when the other pulled off some feat of technique or improvisation.
The vibraphonist Jim Hart was equally impressive, playing the instrument with the percussive swagger that it needs to be truly swinging. And some of the most appreciative applause of the night came after solos by pianist Craig Milverton, who seemed to range through every style of jazz piano, including a Fats Waller-style stomp in the final number.