The Observer said:
This is a really special album and contains, to this writer’s mind, one of the very best Blues tracks of the year. Big Chief is a North London Band an institution that has run for over 30 years, led by saxophonist John Fry and featuring Tony Reeves on bass the eight piece unit has had some of the major names in British R&B and Jazz through its ranks – including Dick Heckstall-Smith no less, – all part of a CV that takes ones breath away. Thirty odd years and a few decent albums- but this is the best – it crackles with life as the band plays a storming set – the music is a mixture of R&B with brass, Township / Afro, Ska and some funky jazz edged tunes, some blues tinged classics by such as Eugene McDaniels, Tom Waites and Randy Newman – it moves, it swings, it excites, it grooves and it lifts the spirits as you will hear it raised the spirits of the audience on that night.
The band is introduced by Tim Aves who also leads the demands for an encore – every track is good but for Blues fans ‘YOU GOTTA MOVE’ by Fred McDowell is really good and ‘DROWNING ON DRY LAND’ is outstanding; a real corker of a slow blues – with superb solos on trumpet, sax and guitar –great dynamics and a soul filled vocal by John Fry that rings every ounce of desperation and regret from the lyric. Yet the best track of all follows – ‘AFRICA RAG’ written by John Fry and guitarist Barry Langton it’s an Afro groove and the percussion section is let loose to dazzling effect – it closes with everyone in the band and many in the audience playing something and builds to a climax that close with the audience roaring for more. I recommend this very highly indeed – it’s Big Chief at the very top of their game – it’s an hour plus of really good music.
Recorded live at The Dignity in London’s Regents Park Road, where the band has a residency, these 12 numbers showcase the wide range of material that Big Chief play. Most would classify them as Jazz rather than Blues, but there are Willie Dixon and Percy Mayfield songs included here – and who cares which compartment of your CD rack you put it in? What matters is the music. There are certainly some great moments captured here and the band display a tasteful musicianship and spirit.
With 8 members – there’s a lot of soloists to feature. Consequently, about half the tracks are pretty long, but it does mean that you are getting well over an hour of music. As well as jazz and blues there’s reggae in ‘Occupation’, funk in ‘Tune 88’ and township jive in the band’s own ‘Africa Rag’. Steve Taylor’s drums and Tony Reeves’ bass guitar impressed me most but I also enjoyed Chris Fry’s expressive trombone licks.
This is a ‘warts and all’ recording sometimes favouring spontaneity at the expense of precision. That does mean bags of atmosphere, of course. Indeed, the crowd are so audible that they ought to be miffed at not getting a sleeve credit.
On the other hand, ‘Africa Rag’ probably wouldn’t have had its marvellous drum solo in the studio. It certainly sounds like a visit to The Dignity to hear them live would be well worthwhile.
Blues in Britain - August 2010
If ever a band deserve to be heard this is it. Big Chief have been running for over thirty years and along the way they have had some very distinguished musicians in their ranks – Dick Heckstall-Smith and Art Themen. The line-up currently includes Tony Reeves of John Mayall, John Martyn & Elephant Shelf fame.
Led by saxophonist John Fry, the band’s music is a nice mixture of classic R&B and soul in the Percy Mayfield mould, some Afro tinged rhythms, ska and some blues tinged jazz. This live recording captures the spirit of the band and is replete with swing, vitality and several stunning solos, in particular listen out for guitarist Barry Langton. The album opens with Tom Waits ‘Down in the Hole, great tune this, segues into the jazz tune ‘Flute Song’ and then lifts off nicely with a great rendering of Percy Mayfield’s classic R&B song ‘River’s Invitation’, John Fry’s excellent ‘lived-in’ vocal makes this track (readers are recommended to look up Percy Mayfield if he’s a new name).
The album gets bluesier with Duke Ellington’s ‘I’m Just a Lucky So and So’ and other stand-outs include Jeff Lorber’s ‘Tune 88’, and Willie Dixon’s ‘I Love the Life I Live’. You’ll hear some real Afro rhythm on ‘Africa Rag’ and the blues drenched classic ‘I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free’ popularized by Nina Simone leads to the conclusion. This is good, it’s totally live; so you’ll hear the crowd and you’ll catch the spirit. I’ve heard this band live several times and they have other gems in live performance. Catch them live and you’ll love them, in the meantime go for a copy of this.
This is Big Chief's fourth CD release in ten years.
This North London based band of stunning jazz orientated musicians recorded this live in the Dignity, Finchley Central over two gigs in 2009 A.D. The title of the album in no way denotes that the band is a jazz dinosaur, far from it. (I fell into the trap of asking why 2009 BC – B.C. Big Chief... doh!)
Now here are a group of musicians who love doing what they do, done it for a long time, make it sound fresh and make sure that the audience joins in too. Big Chief's take on tracks from Paul Simon to Tom Waits, and Percy Mayfield to Duke Ellington allow for a bit of modernism and jazz eclecticism.
Way down in the Hole allows Chris Fry to prove that his showmanship on the trombone is a natural occurrence. Having had an immersion by some notable musicians including the legendary Barry Phillips, it's no wonder that Chris takes off.
Just a Lucky So and So has a piano solo by Adrian Paton, to do high leg kicks to, along with a cheeky trumpet partnership from Ed Benstead.
Tune 88 is one of those familiar sounding tunes but all of a sudden, it's more complex. Barry Langton swipes out a guitar solo which rocks around the room. Chris and Ed work as a tag team, each knows what the other is going to play instinctively.
Africa Rag brings out another dimension, with its township rhythms and percussion breaks. There’s lilting soprano sax from John Fry; but the climax is Steve Taylor’s drum solo, yes, a drum solo. Who could stop dancing to this?
This twelve track plus CD is purely live; as far as production is concerned, there isn't any. This is what Big Chief does - warts and all, but I didn’t try to find any; emotion and enjoyment took over.