Review: FB Pocket Orchestra at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club

“Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Moonlight on the bayou, a creole tune that fills the air…” Sauntering over to Swing Unlimited Jazz Club on Wednesday transported me back to the southern USA. I sang that beautiful song (associated with Harry Connick Jnr, but originally sung by Billie Holliday) in a New Orleans show, on a cruise ship based in Miami doing the Bahamas run weekly. Hot sticky nights in Miami Beach, spicy gumbos and all-pervading Latin music – my! they were exciting times. Later, I took the train to New Orleans. The automobile is king in the States, but take the slow train to see the country. Encounter fascinating people, good American food (not fast!) onboard and wake up in one of Amtrack’s huge reclining armchairs to a daily changing panorama. Through the Florida Keys, along the bayou and over the Mississippi into New Orleans. Yes, those wrought iron balconies are real. Jazz is everywhere on the streets and coming through the open shutters and doorways of the downtown bars. Whether the scent of magnolias filled the air, I can’t really remember. I do, though, remember the smell of delicious crawfish gumbos, hot jambalaya and red beans and rice – that staple of African influenced dishes. Perhaps just as intense as the humid heat, it’s the smell of people that pervades the air, stepping off the train at midnight. Old fashioned southern hospitality greets me, or as Tennessee Williams describes it, “the kindness of strangers”, as I’m led from jazz bar to jazz bar, and all the intoxicating delights of hot New Orleans nights.

There was some New Orleans heat in the air at Swing Unlimited on Wednesday as the FB Pocket Orchestra took to the stage. They led us through two hot ‘n’ swingin’ sets of twenties and thirties ‘birth of the blues’ jazz music, from Ellington’s theme for the Cotton Club to Bix Beiderbecke’s ‘At the Jazz Band Ball’. Perfect playing and singing by some of the self-deprecating heros of the early jazz scene. The band was ably led by the very demure Paul Stevenson on guitar and sometimes banjo. What a pleasure to hear ‘Don’t Bring Lulu’, Paul dueting with multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ollie Corbin. Ollie was constantly swapping instruments and voice like on the riotous ‘Champagne Charlie’, springing surprises on cornet, then on cajon drum-box, wielding a nifty washboard, or even ‘demi-jug’!
Juggling clarinet and gorgeous vocals was the sublime, if under-amplified, Jenny Russell. She sings almost in a whisper – this is quality crooning. Her singing was as impeccable as her clarinet playing. Full of feeling, irony and with more than a glint in her eye, her joie de vivre was infectious both for the audience and the rest of the band. Her repertoire is terrific from Dixieland standard ‘Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?’ to Fats Waller tune ‘When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful’. Richard Miners on tuba was a superb bass line ‘oompah’ player. Centre stage was the talented and insouciantly charismatic Josh Piero on viola, adding melancholic gypsy chords to tunes like the gorgeous ‘Petite Fleur’ by Sidney Bechet. His arabic riffs also fitted the travelogue as we finished the evening in rousing chilli-infused N’Orleans style, where else but ‘In an Old Bazaar in Cairo’ with the ‘Sheik of Araby’, two jazz standards that made their way from the Bayou to Tin Pan Alley.
Wow! @[508761206:2048:Alice 'Vocalobo' Rowberry] with Red Embers last night - fantastic band, fantastic audience, fantastic night! Next week we are proud to offer yet another stonking night of eclectic jazz - this time it's the "FB Pocket Orchestra" - an outstanding quintet taking us back to the hot jazz, blues, ragtime & popular dances of 1920/30s New Orleans... Entry only £6, doors open 7.30 (as always), wonderful food available from 8pm... SUPPORT LOCAL LIVE JAZZ!!!
FB Pocket Orchestra are totally immersed in their music, having a great time and making sure the audience do too. They are superbly talented musicians who nevertheless retain a self-effacing joy in their music. There was a special treat for the audience as not one, but two charismatic Pieros were on stage at one point. Josh’s dad, Swing Unlimited’s showman trumpetter Pat, joined the band for some light-hearted fun (and brilliant improvisation) on ‘Down, Down, Down’. A great showbiz moment to cap a terrific night “way down yonder in New Orleans”.

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