Big Chief have been together for some 30 years now and have lost none of their edge, there is always something new to get excited about. Big Chief continue to perform live across the UK festivals and at many pubs and clubs in the London and Hertfordshire area on a regular basis and the band have released a number of live and studio albums of some note.
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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
"The long-established, ever changing Big Chief is an institution as much as a band, bundling jazz, blues and soul in one bag and shaking them vigorously. Unpredictable but always exciting."
On Broadway. - recorded live at the Ealing Blues and roots Festival 2010.
2009 B.C. - recorded at the Dignity during 2009.
Big Chief Live - recorded at the Old Bull, Barnet, 29th November 2003.
It don't make sense - studio album. Recorded & mixed at the BBC Television Music Studio, Shepherds Bush, London. Now available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.
Steppin' out - studio album . Recorded and mised by Wan Hewitt at Scarlet Studio, London..