Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas: A Christmas cracker of a concert

The Albert Hall is rapidly becoming synonymous with London's Christmas festivities, even being voted the 'Most Prestigious Christmas Venue' at the Prestigious Star Awards 2016. It continued its seasonal programme last night with a concert from Guy Barker's Big Band, aided by a number of special guests.
Barker himself arranged each piece and took on conducting duties, putting together a varied selection of pieces that mostly stuck to the Christmas theme but also included some jazz standards. A repertoire like this is perfect for these kinds of events; a mix of easily recognisable tunes with some less well-known ones, all performed in a similar style, makes it accessible to a slightly wider audience.

Among the guests were international a capella group Accent, who performed on several numbers. Their vocal gymnastics were most effective in their rendition of “Keep The Faith” – unlike the rest of their songs last night this was done in their usual style, without backing from the band.

Vanessa Haynes, lead singer of Incognito, also lent her voice to several songs and gave the impression she could have sung without a microphone, it was that powerful! Her standout moment came when she joined with Accent to celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas, singing Stevie Wonder's “Heaven Help Us All” – a big gospel number that sent shivers down the spine as Haynes reached some incredible high notes.

Overseeing events alongside Barker, as well as performing, was broadcaster Clare Teal.

Renowned vocalist Kurt Elling provided an unexpected highlight with an original take on “Little Drummer Boy”, a song made famous by David Bowie and Bing Crosby – backed only by double bass and a pair of drum kits, with Elling indulging the audience in a spot of scat singing.

Oxford history graduate and alto saxophonist Soweto Kinch took centre stage for some numbers, even recreating a moment in jazz history with Guy Barker alongside on trumpet. They performed a memorable version of “White Christmas” that the Charlie Parker Trio had done over the radio waves in 1948.

All-round showman Clarke Peters was also on hand; a big Louis Jordan fan, Barker had arranged “May Every Day Be Christmas” for him to sing, and he also put his acting skills to good use in a comical duet of “'Zat You, Santa Claus?” with Elling.

However, the biggest highlight had to be the second act medley of pieces by well-known jazz composers, including Benny Goodman's “Sing, Sing, Sing”. In the middle of that selection, the audience was treated to a drum battle of epic proportions from Ed Richardson and Matt Skelton that showed off both their skill and their stamina, earning them one of the biggest crowd reactions of the night.

As proceedings came to a close, Teal called for this to become an annual event – a sentiment which was echoed by the thousands in attendance. The concert was a hugely successful celebration of both jazz and the different aspects of Christmas that filled the audience with joy and really got the festive season going. A Christmas cracker of a concert!

Five stars: ★★★★★