Review: the Karen Pitt Sextet at Swing Unlimited

‘Weary with toil I haste me to my bed, the dear repose for limbs with travel tired, but then begins a story in my head, to work my mind when body’s work’s expired.’  Anyone could be forgiven for retiring, like Shakespeare, to bed to take refuge from this cold and rain-blown English spring.  But jazz lovers on Wednesday evening were seeking solace in warm company and evergreen jazz standards at the Swing Unlimited Jazz Club.


Stepping inside to the amazing sounds of Theolonius Monk’s ‘Around Midnight’ sung with passion by Wendy Dimmick with terrific support from John Belben on guitar and Pat Piero on trumpet and flugel.  ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got…’ as the song goes, and boy! do they have ‘that swing’!


In traditional jazz club mode, exposed brickwork and a prohibition bar – serving a mean Guinness – Swing Unlimited Jazz Club is a convivial place, full of good company.  And full it certainly was, as the lovely Karen Pitt and her Sextet had packed them in for some ‘Songs of Spring’.


On energetic keys,  James Stead was leading his pack and lending his gorgeous Buble-esque vocals to solos and duetting with Karen on tunes like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ and Ella’s arrangement of ‘Can’t Take That Away From Me’.  Pat Piero’s charismatic playing of trumpet and flugel lends a dash of Tabasco to familiar tunes, like Diana Krall’s arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ – more Chet Baker than Nelson Riddle.  Even if one swallow doesn’t make the spring Nick Kennedy’s tenor and alto saxophone swooped and dived through standards like ‘This Can’t be Love’, duetting with James on keys in ‘Too Darned Hot’ – their playing certainly was!  Then with the full band for Nick’s stunning uptempo arrangement of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You’.  It truly set the band and the house on fire, including Julian ‘Jools’ Whitehead playing a nice ‘n’ smooth low range on his trombone.  Allan Elliot on drums and Andy Pitt on electric bass guitar kept swingin’ time and rhythm, perfectly showcased on a pacey version of Peggy Lee’s hit ‘Fever’.  I love the way Andy gets a double bass sound from his bass guitar, down to a Herbie Flowers technique, he says.  Close your eyes and try to tell the difference as he underscored Karen’s well-modulated vocals.


The band truly got their wings in Caro Emerald’s ‘That Man’, the horn section rasping and roaring to good measure, Allan’s drums cracking through and James Steadman’s fabulous vocals harmonising brilliantly with Karen’s.


John Belben’s perfect guitar playing interwove throughout every tune.  John is an extraordinary, if unassuming, guitarist and really puts the sweetness into his playing.  His solos were sensational; especially Astrud Gilberto’s ‘Agua de Beber’.  This was enchantingly sung by Karen and James in the original Portugese, whisking the audience down to Brazil’s Copacobana beach – or was it Ipanema?  Karen introduced this number in a touching tribute to her dad, proudly sitting in the front row.


Afterwards, not quite, but around midnight, the audience stumbled back out into the icy blast of spring.  They left warmed through by three hours of great jazz music.  Home to bed, no doubt, and to sweet dreams of sweet music at Swing Unlimited Jazz Club.

Tonight at SUJC - "Songs for Spring" with Karen Pitt & her Swing Unlimited All-Stars Sextet! Doors open 7.30, music starts 8pm - entry only £5.00!<br /><br /><br />

Can’t wait for next week at SU JC and The Organisers… See you!

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