For several generations of jazz listeners, the release of Dancing on Frith Street will be cause for celebration. Recorded live at Ronnie Scott's in September 1990, in the days before Loose Tubes broke up, the album has never before seen the light of day. Bursting with energy, invention and fun, the music is highly danceable. It balances tight arrangements and fiery solos with the band's quirky sense of humour.
In the years since they split up, Loose Tubes have acquired mythical status for those who remember them or have only heard of their exploits by word of mouth. Between 1985 and 1988, they released three studio-recorded albums on vinyl, long since unavailable. The limited availability of those recordings only enhanced the band's reputation. Dancing on Frith Street will surely enhance it further still.
Catching the 23-piece band on top form, it clearly demonstrates why they were such a popular live attraction. With 18 wind instruments plus a five-piece rhythm section, their emphasis was always on exuberant blowing. As on their 80s releases, there are no cover versions here; the compositions and arrangements all originated within the band. Taking their inspiration and rhythms from far and wide - including ska, South African township jazz, New Orleans second-lining and beyond - they created their own distinctive blend.
The root of the band's success lay in the number of fine players, writers and arrangers included in its ranks, many of whom have gone on to greater things since 1990. Saxophonist Iain Ballamy, trumpeter Chris Batchelor, keyboardist Django Bates, flautist Eddie Parker and guitarist John Parricelli represent just the tip of the iceberg.
Despite its vintage, Dancing on Frith Street still sounds remarkably fresh and contemporary. That is fitting as the music and attitude of Loose Tubes have been very influential on many current bands, notably those from the F-IRE and Loop collectives.
To follow up its release, let's hope that the three original Loose Tubes albums are soon made readily available on CD. Until they are, this delightful album will do very nicely, thank you.