Review: Fret and Fiddle @ Lichfield Guildhall

The popular jazz quartet Fret and Fiddle closed Lichfield Arts’ 2015 season with a night of music in tribute to the violinist Stephane Grappelli, interspersed with a selection of festive favourites.

The ensemble, led by the talented Sally Minchin on violin, vocals and narration, also included Andy Bole on acoustic and electric guitars, Simon Smith on double bass and pianist Rich Hughes.

Fret and Fiddle

Fret and Fiddle

During the two hour concert the show focussed on the violin playing, but allowed for soloing from all of the musicians and the sense of fun in Grapelli’s music was allowed to shine.

Taking a chronological path through Grappelli’s life, the concert looked at the music he wrote and recorded, his more important influences, and his relationships with musical figures as diverse as Django Reinhardt and Yehudi Menhuin. As well as these figures, Grappelli also had a wide ranging interest in music, and an open minded approach, appearing on records and stages with Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani, Claude Bolling, Jean-Luc Ponty, Gary Burton, Paul Simon, André Previn, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joe Pass, Yo Yo Ma, Toots Thielemans and many others.

The concert started with a duet for piano and violin, showing the influence of the classical training that Sally has received, before the guitar and bass offered effortless swing momentum to such famous jazz pieces as Tea For Two, the slower I Can’t give you Anything But My Love, or the closing I Found You Baby.

Andy Bole was given his moment in the spotlight during Minor Swing, it’s complicated chord progression being no hindrance the brisk pace, while Simon Smith impressed during Sweet Georgia Brown.

The highlight of the first set was Stomping at Decca, which allowed for some fine ensemble playing.

The festive songs they played included Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, with the ensemble delivering a feel good swing tempo to the familiar tune, and Let it Snow, which received a similar treatment.

The second half of the concert looked at Grappelli’s life after World War Two and his deep friendship with Django Reinhardt, and featured such jazz staples as My Funny Valentine, April in Paris, and Anything Goes.

The short and compact nature of many of the songs meant that a lot of music was played, allowing for plenty of jazz improvisation from all four members. A closing salvo of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, and the ragtime jazz favourite Tiger Rag were well received.

This was a good concert and a heartfelt tribute to one of the leading jazz musicians of his day.