For a band so obviously steeped in, and who have a great love for, early New Orleans and Dixieland jazz, there was a surprising lack of emotion in the playing. While we may have been treated to accurate reproductions of the tunes as they were originally written, I would have imagined that the performances of a hundred or so years ago would have been a lot more passionate.
There were exceptions to this, though. St Louis Blues and Oh Didn’t He Ramble livened the proceedings up considerably, but what would have been a rousing version of Little Liza Jane suffered from the failing common to a number of “trad” bands on this side of the Atlantic – the lack of a genuine singer in the band. James’s vocals were by far the weak point of the night.
There is no doubting the abilities of the musicians, particularly the clarinet and trumpet front line, but it was all too studious, a bit like being expected to believe that your old geography teacher led a double life as a New Orleans jazz legend. (Mine didn’t, but I could tell you a few stories about him…)
Or perhaps all they need is a bit more variety in the line-up. Having guitar, double bass, drums and percussion as four of a six piece outfit does not make for a colourful musical palette, and there were times when you longed to hear piano or banjo in the mix.
To be fair, most of the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, although the performance was greeted with polite applause, and no demands for an encore. And nobody was dancing…