The Valley isn’t where you’d usually go to hear a 22-piece big band, but the G20 Cultural Celebration and the New Globe Theatre changed that on Sunday night. The UQ Big Band’s stellar three-set performance made the hassle of hosting the G20 seem worthwhile.
If you’re surprised to hear that, you obviously don’t know the UQBB. In fact, I went to UQ and I still know people in the band. But I would have gone to this show even if it was the Prague Institute of Technology jazz orchestra, because I really like big band music. Having listened to some of the best – and a lot of the rest – I was excited about this show.
One of my favourite things about the UQBB is that they’re not content just to play familiar standards from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Not only do they hunt out some obscure big band tunes, they’re also just as comfortable playing arrangements of songs from completely different eras and genres. I was hoping a three-set show would give the band a chance to try out more of these experiments, and they didn’t disappoint.
Each set was devoted to covering a particular artist, beginning with Radiohead, moving on to Björk, and capping things off with songs from contemporary indie big band leader Monika Roscher. There was barely a typical big band standard in sight, but from my completely scientific glance surveys of the crowd, everyone looked to be happy with that.
The first set demonstrated delightfully that Radiohead and big band jazz can go hand in hand. Paranoid Android is surprisingly recognisable, even dressed in jazz clothing. And these particular clothes provided a great opportunity for two very different piano parts – one, catchy and upbeat, and the other, a soulful, skilful meander along the keys. Both were brilliant.
After performing an entire set of Radiohead songs, coming back out to play Björk must have seemed like a nightmare. But the band still had plenty of energy left for Army of Me, the final song in the set. They strayed as far into guitar-shredding heavy metal as I’ve seen a big band go. Let me tell you, there are a lot of metal songs which could benefit from duelling saxophones.
The Monika Roscher set was a showcase for the band’s two excellent singers – if only they could have joined us for the first set, too.
Roscher has been building a name for herself in her native Germany. After listening to her debut album, and the UQBB’s rendition of it, I’m convinced that part of her destiny needs to be composing a James Bond movie theme. And I mean that as high praise. Her music is engrossing, unsettling, bold, and appropriately dramatic – and the UQ Big Band is the ideal way to be drawn into that world. It’s clear they love playing Roscher’s music, and if I could play it like they do, I would, too.
At the end of the show, the band’s elated conductor – justifiably proud of their performance – couldn’t resist thanking each band member by name, including their bassist who, he told us, never misses a note.
This was their last show for this year, so make sure seeing the UQ Big Band is your New Year’s resolution for 2015.
by Kit Kriewaldt