Guy Barker’s Big Band – Four Stars ****

Early on Sunday evening the Royal Albert Hall was packed with Christmas revellers for the first (hopefully annual) Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas. Joined by his own big band, made up of a host of international jazz musicians and specially expanded to 40 members for this one-off show. Conductor/arranger/trumpeter/multi-talented Guy Barker put together a unique and ever-changing show all framed by the gorgeous backdrop of a huge christmas tree adorning the stage.

The programme covered both christmas classics, think Winter Wonderland and White Christmas, as well as jazz standards and and more unfamiliar pieces. This jumping about from one style to the next helped avoid a saturated christmas vibe and instead allowed the musicians and singers to showcase their talent and passion for the music. Clare Teal’s presenting style was low-key and cosy, as listeners of her radio show would anticipate but rather unexpected in such a grand venue. Due to her warm persona it worked perfectly and brought a totally unique feel to a show at the Royal Albert Hall.

The audience were treated to an impressive list of guest performers with particular note to Kurt Elling, whose version of Little Drummer Boy included a thrilling section of scat singing as well as delivering a heartfelt performance of All the Way. Elling returned to the stage to join Clarke Peters in a hilarious duet of Zat You Santa Claus. Acapella band Accent wowed with their vocals during a performance of Keep the Faith before joining Vanessa Haynes to ’take us to Church’ with a thrilling gospel version of Stevie Wonder’s Heaven Help Us All.

A glitter ball rotating above the audience created a snow globe effect with multi coloured dots of light regularly spinning across the rows of audience and eliciting gasps of childish wonder. In the second half of the show the orchestra got the chance to shine with instrumental versions of traditional songs including White Christmas performed by Soweto Kinch on saxophone and Guy Barker on trumpet in the style of Charlie Parker. All in all a Christmassy night to remember. Same time next year?

Lucy Danser

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