Review by Jasmine Sharif: "Bassey Plays Basie" Rottingdean Village Hall, August 25th 2014 (Rottingdean Jazz Festival)
There can't be many trombonists who claim to have Count Basie as their father and Shirley Bassey as their mother. However this is just one of the humorous hooks used by charismatic Mark Bassey, bandleader of this tribute to Count Basie, one of the great figureheads of jazz, to draw his audience into his orbit. Visually he presents an indomitable figure, gliding with melodic ease into "Jive at Five" accompanied by the svelte playing of fellow frontman Simon Savage, on tenor sax.
The retro atmosphere of the Art Deco-inspired Village Hall, sits well with the 20th century vibe of the music. As a result, Bassey and crew look very pleased to be there. From the first note, their presentation is dynamic and sounds a lot bigger than they are.
They begin the first set by wooing their listeners on slower numbers such as "Li'l Darling". Unlike 'cooler' jazz performers, who play more for themselves, Bassey talks to his audience fondly, like old friends, explaining his new arrangements of the music.
The packed-out audience is in for a lot of fun. They listen entranced, to Bassey's story of how he first got into playing trombone, finding his feet in a first rather low-status role of "4th trombone" in a faceless big band. Then, with Simon Savage's beguiling phrases and Alex Eberhard's effortless timing on drums, they bring a laid-back swing to numbers like "Corner Pocket", Terry Seabrook using a beautifully percussive aspect on piano to counterbalance the melody. In the second set, the atmosphere hots up with "Fidgets" and its infectious beat, and Bassey treats the audience to an explanation of how he came to give the re-named "Splanky" its funkier Blues Brothers-style edge.
Bassey's re-imaginings of these classics work because they are commanding, immediate, innovative and have a storytelling quality to them. In fact, as he tells me, he called his first album CD, "Telling Stories"... With these qualities as a theme throughout the show, I realise that many modern pop and soul songs, even some current chart hits, derive almost directly from several of the Basie melodies.
"Girl Talk" proves to be one of the band's most applauded numbers, on which the sax winds seductively on the ear like a sweet low voice. And there is a 'colonial' feel to this song, as if we had suddenly found ourselves transported to a ballroom in Raj-style Bombay, with couples whirling the room in a timeless waltz.
As they finish in rousing amusing style, with "Shiny Bald Patch", Bassey's own take on "Shiny Stockings", followed by "Jumpin' at the Woodside", the musicians have revealed a certain intoxicating mix of intimacy and global appeal. The ability to hold a modern audience's attention with these classic vintage sounds of jazz is no mean feat. It all seems to come back to that clever scattering of varied rhythmic and percussive motifs and accents throughout the arrangements, which undoubtedly helps.
Bassey has a considerable discography under his belt, [perhaps there could be ...] a brand new "Bassey plays Basie" CD in the pipeline, bringing with it the exciting potential for a much wider audience to be introduced to the music of Count Basie.