The Tunisian Nights Little Big Band and frontman Dennis Russell present over 2 hours of live jazz.
Presented by Dennis Russell
Reviewed 21 February 2021
Take 26 big-band charts, a reduced ‘little’ big band and a room full of jazz lovers, and you should be onto a winning formula. That is the premise behind the fringe show They Can’t Take That Away From Me, presented by band director and lead vocalist for ‘The Tunisian Nights Little Big Band’. At times, this production hit the mark and left me tapping my toes (remember, no dancing as advised by SA Health), however, there were a few too many imperfections that put a dampener on this show.
‘The Tunisian Nights Little Big Band’ gave a very solid performance. There were lots of featured moments during the 2.5 hour performance, allowing each member to take solos and showcase their abilities. A standout was the bass player’s solo in the closing number Sweet Home Chicago. The biggest highlight of the night was from pianist Florence Lang. Her heartfelt rendition of You Don’t Know Me was captivating. It was a real shame we did not see more of her vocal abilities throughout the evening. There was also exceptional musicianship and ensemble playing between the two saxophone players. The Dixieland setup for the opening of the second act was also a personal favourite, as was their smoking rendition of Zoot Suit Riot, originally by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
The band worked well as a tight unit in a lot of the numbers. Their rendition of the jazz standard The Way You Look Tonight is a great example of the group’s musicianship and ensemble playing. Sadly, there were also several times where it just missed the mark, which generally came down to the arrangements. As a ‘Little Big Band’, there isn’t the luxury of the full Big Band line up, which a lot of these arrangements would have been based on. This could be easily overcome by personalised arrangements written specifically for this band, rather than “off-the-shelf” arrangements where key instruments and parts are left out due to the reduced nature of this band. This was particularly obvious in some of the bigger charts, such as New York, New York and James Morrison’s arrangement of All Of Me.
The band was directed by Dennis Russell, who also was the vocalist, and at times took solos on the trumpet and Flugel Horn. He had a good rapport with the audience throughout the evening, and included some good insight into the history of the pieces and the original artists who recorded them. It was unfortunate that there were several charts that were just out of Dennis’s vocal range, leaving top notes to crack or sound forced and strained. There were also several times where key changes were missed and it took several bars for him to settle into the new key.
The biggest bug-bear of the evening was the audio and Front-Of-House mix. The entire first half had the mix coming only through one speaker. This, mixed with some poor microphone holding technique, resulted in a very muffled, and at times hard to hear, performance from front man Dennis Russell. I have been to countless performances at Norwood Live, and never had any issues with audio at the venue. I think part of the issue is that there was no tech present to monitor the sound desk and mix the show live. Also, due to the size of the room, mic-ing up the entire band was not necessary, as it dominated the mix, often masking the vocals.
This year’s Adelaide Fringe is a very different experience, with the lingering presence of COVID-19 impacting how shows are able to go ahead. The majority of venues, staff and patrons are doing their bit to ensure this festival can continue as safely as possible, and this is to be highly commended. However, at one point in this performance, an incident occurred that breached one of the COVID-safe guidelines that SA Health have in place to keep everyone safe. Whilst I need to commend both Norwood Live and the duty manager for doing their best to return a dancing patron back to their seat, it was disappointing to see Dennis encourage her and invite her back up. With the restrictions in place making it possible for the Adelaide Fringe to run even in the midst of a global pandemic, everyone, especially those presenting a show, need to do their bit to be compliant and work within SA Health, and the Fringe’s guidelines, regardless of personal feelings.
There is one more opportunity to catch They Can’t Take That Away From Me, this time at the ‘Top of the Ark’ at the Arkaba Hotel. There is also a stripped back version of this show All Of Me at the ‘Domain Theatre’ at Marion Cultural Centre this Friday, February 26. Bookings can be made through FringeTix.
Reviewed by: Ben Stefanoff
Venue: Osmond Function Centre, Norwood Live
Season: Feb 21 and March 17
Duration: 2.5 hours
Tickets: From $23.00
Rating out of 5: 3