Review: Buddy Rich Band at Ronnie's




Mark Youll saw Dave Weckl capture Buddy Rich's finesse and virtuosic technique with aplomb as Ronnie Scott's marked the powerhouse drummer's centenary

Since Buddy Rich's passing in 1987 tribute shows for the drum master have been plentiful, often with some of the world's greatest musicians signing up to sit in and play their respects. Tonight was no exception, as one of 12 concerts over six nights to mark Rich's centenary year saw a specially assembled orchestra made up of UK greats and original Buddy band alumni squeeze onto Ronnie's stage for a big band spectacular like no other.

Headed up and hosted by Rich's vocalist daughter Cathy Rich, the show was naturally drum heavy, showcasing the remarkable playing of Rich's husband Gregg Potter in the first set and the impressive Dave Weckl (pictured right) in the second.

To whistles and cheers from a lively audience Potter kicked things open with a snappy snare break into Pat LaBarbera's Dancing Men, his groove driving hard through blaring horns, Matt Harris's strident piano and some outrageously funky electric bass from Laurence Cottle.

While it could be argued that there'll never be another Buddy and that drummers should be encouraged to add their own personal spin to this music, it would be fair to say that Potter's stick-spinning showmanship, off-kilter accompaniment and stadium rock gymnastics proved a little overbearing early on. But he relaxed into the set, laying back into the breezy straight-a-headers like Just In Time, and bringing a fresh, contemporary disco vibe to The Beat Goes On, the infectious classic recorded by Cathy Rich aged 12 for Buddy's Big Swing Face album, and soulfully revived live by the lady herself this evening.

Rich remained onstage for another tune she first cut with her dad, and indeed live in this very club, the gospel-tinged That's Enough. Sassy, brassy and packed with slick licks, squealing trumpets and raspy trombones blew around her cool-toned vocals before the whole tune rode out on a high thanks to a ruthless alto solo from Bob Bowlby. From the applause for this came a long hi-hat feature from Potter, his brutal, blur-fast strokes eventually met by the familiar refrain of Birdland resonating from the bass cab.

By now the atmosphere in the club was electric, and closing this first set with the Zawinul hit brought some inspired interplay to the bandstand, not to mention a long, smoking solo from tenorist Nigel Hitchcock and some vibey percussion playing from any horn players not blowing the melody or trading breaks with the drums, piano or funky, finger-style bass.

After a brief interval, and even quicker switch of drum kits, Weckl was welcomed to the stage to an early ovation. No stranger to this club, this music or indeed Buddy bashes like these, the drum star first praised the band and discussed Rich before throwing himself into Sammy Nestico's energetic Ya Gotta Try. From his fast, flickering ride pattern dancing beautifully atop Harris's soft, pensive piano intro, the music was driven with noticeably more precision, and Weckl's touch, timing and feel for these arrangements was key to this. Whether it was the crisp swing shuffle groove he rolled out under Rotten Kid, or his own breathtaking break here, littered with bouncy triplets, military-style rolls and cannon-loud bombs on bass drum, he breathed fire into the music and captured Buddy's finesse and virtuosic technique with equal aplomb.

Bringing the tempo and house down with a blasé Basically Blues, Weckl next tripped into another extended solo, this one montuno inspired, as the clatter of cowbell, snare drum and toms cleverly announced a rousing reading of Time Check. The drummer's imaginative use of dynamics and phrasing through the tune was a lesson in pure swing, particularly his spacious approach to fours or tasty stick work under solos from Simon Gardner and Eric Miyashiro, two of Buddy's original touring trumpeters, punctuating the music with stabs or crazy runs on the back row.

Returning to centre stage, Cathy Rich too found herself at ease in Weckl's deep pocket as she closed the show with a playful Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. There were cries for more, which the band duly delivered, and a knockout arrangement of Love For Sale swung so hard it instantly cemented itself as the highlight of an incredible night that more than honoured Buddy on his birthday.

Photo by Jon Frost


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