fri 19/04/2024

New Regency Orchestra, Colour Factory review - sizzling Afro-Cuban big band | reviews, news & interviews

New Regency Orchestra, Colour Factory review - sizzling Afro-Cuban big band

New Regency Orchestra, Colour Factory review - sizzling Afro-Cuban big band

20-piece London Latin band raises a storm

Alexa Varona and Luanda Pau, dancers with the NRO

Four trombones, four trumpets and five saxophones, six percussionists – this Afro-Cuban inspired band packs an irresistible punch and it’s loud!  This is a big band sound that revives the glory days of Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie, a 1940s fusion of Latin and jazz, as incendiary as it comes. A true wonder that London should produce music of this power and vibrancy, but the New Regency Orchestra (NRO) do just that, keeping the energy going for the full length of a 90-minute set.

Deep in the heart of lively Hackney Wick, throbbing with the party excitement of a Saturday night, the NRO have found the perfect home in the Colour Factory – a large enough venue to accommodate several hundred aficionados of Latin music and jazz, but well-served by the kind of intimacy that guarantees a constant and fiery conversation between musicians and audience.

This has always been music to dance to. The brass and reed back line recalls the rousing jazz of Basie and Ellington, with a swing rhythm that got the crowd jitterbugging in the 1930s and 40s, and further back to the brass formations of New Orleans, who Africanised the military-flavoured music of the city’s marching bands, and transformed the martial tone that they drew on into something joyous and sensual.  Salsa and rhumba are as erotic as couple dancing gets, and the NRO had plenty of people snaking their hips to the seductive polyrhythms, inspired and sometimes invited on stage by the orchestra’s two lively dancers Alexa Varona and Luanda Pau.

Flavio Correa plays the bata drum, the sacred mainstay of santeria ceremonies, a reminder that the Cuban element in Tito Puente’s music expressed the deeply spiritual nature of a music rooted in a culture that celebrated body and soul simultaneously.  This is a music of celebration, in which sexuality is a sacrament as well as a source of physical pleasure. Alongside the bata, Ernesto Marichales, from Venezuela, plays the timbales with a beautiful combination of thunderous energy and delicate virtuosity. He’s adept at the dazzle of polyrhythm and the interjection of shattering strokes that ‘break’ the expectations of listener, fellow-music and dancer, and. according to African tradition provide a moment of spiritual transcendence.  Whenever he’s left room to solo, the temperature rises, and he takes the audience higher. Not long after, the wall of bass and reed instruments re-enters raising a storm in the already boiling venue. “Hot!”, one of the band shouts over and over, as if the fire were ready to consume us.

There are wonderful solos as well. The band, created by DJ/compiler Lex Blondin and multi-percussionist Crispin Spry Robinson, consists of handpicked talent, all of them proven in the fields of Lain and Jazz. Keyboard-player and bandleader Eliane Correa holds what could so easily descend into chaos with a firm hand, tempered by a perfect sense of timing that’s attuned to the flow of body and soul as much as it is to clockwork time signatures. Trumpeter Nick Walters contributes a glittering and highly articulate solo as do some of the others alongside him. The star of the show might be Tamar Osborn, whose delightful command of the baritone sax is a show-stopper. She’s definitely the best of the reeds, who suffered at times from a less than perfect mix.

In the second half of the set the orchestra are joined by vocalist José Cesar, with lungs that stand up well to the barrage of sound around him, and who adds just the right dose of characteristic sweetness that would be qualified as sabroso. A pity perhaps that he’s occasionally upstaged by the two immensely charismatic dancers, whose lively antics inevitably draw most of the audience’s attention.  Nevertheless, a small complaint: this is a show to enjoy with abandon, rather than subject to cheerless analysis. These guys really cook!

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