MusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

Hot Sardines – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Co-Leaders: Elizabeth Bougerol, Evan Palazzo

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

How do you pack out halls with wildly enthusiastic audiences for what is basically the jazz and popular music of 80 or 90 years ago? First of all, it helps to have top-class musicians who also manage to share the enormous fun they are having. Then, if you take The Hot Sardines’ approach, intelligent programming, full of tweaks and surprises, does it for you.

For instance, at The Howard Assembly Room on the second leg of a three-date UK tour, things began very smartly, with nifty arrangements full of smooth key changes and by the second number A.C. Lincoln’s tap-dancing – a sit-down addition to the rhythm section when not soloing – provided a certain something. Halfway through the first half, it became obvious that The Hot Sardines do swingingly straightforward things in anything but a straightforward way. Co-leader Evan Palazzo launched into an introduction in a sort of Mozart-cum-Harlem-stride piano style, the other co-leader Elizabeth Bougerol gave us her French version of Comes Love (choosing great songs is a pretty good idea, too) and Ben Golder-Novick’s clarinet solo took us into the world of klezmer.

New York-based The Hot Sardines are unusual as an eight-piece band (usually – numbers can fluctuate) with only two totally regular members, French-born singer Elizabeth Bougerol and pianist/MD Evan Palazzo who were brought together initially by a love of the music of Fats Waller. The song that, according to Bougerol, started it all, Your Feet’s Too Big, figured in the HAR programme, as did Palazzo doing a Fats on his only solo vocal, Lulu’s Back in Town, not a Waller composition, as Palazzo pointed out – he and Bougerol were informative guides as well as infectious entertainers.

The choice of material effectively blended the predictable and the surprising: a romp through Dinah is what you’d expect from such a band, but not combined with Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain. Best of all, the encore began and ended with the Andrews Sisters classic, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, sandwiching a suitably wild version of the great old flagwaver, Diga Diga Doo. Even as ancient a song as After You’ve Gone came up fresh as paint, with Bougerol singing the seldom-heard verse and Lincoln heralding the traditional doubling of tempo with a flurry of tapping. And, as for novelty, how about Bougerol’s French version of The King of the Swingers?

Precise ensembles and swinging, technically dextrous solos, often on the freakish side of jazz, characterised the fine three-man horn section. J. Walter Hawkes brought to mind Duke Ellington’s trombone stylists, especially in his solos with mute, trumpeter Noah Hocker was at his best in more lyrical solos and Golder-Novick doubled clarinet with tenor sax playing that took us to the borders of rhythm and blues.

Victor Murillo contributed the odd eccentric bass solo as well as driving the band along with accomplished drummer David Berger. The Hot Sardines’ unique selling point is having a tap dancer to augment the rhythm section and solo spectacularly: A.C. Lincoln’s duetting with Berger’s tomtoms was a highlight. Without walls or steps to dance up, with limited space and cables to be avoided, Lincoln’s solos still excited.

Reviewed on 27 January 2019 | Image: Justin Slee

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