Ronnie Cuber, Ronnie Scott's, London
Monday 06 February 2006
Cuber, 64, is perhaps best known as a sideman whose rough-edged bari has underpinned many a horn section, for names as varied as Woody Herman, Eric Clapton and Frank Zappa. As a leader, he has simple tastes. Straight-ahead swinging is what he requires of his backing trio. Bill O'Connell on piano and Ruben Rodriguez on electric bass fully met his demands, although his young drummer, Shingo Okidara, was metronomic and failed to supply enough spark.
The leader provided raspy lines on his baritone in the opening numbers, the second of which was a welcome take on Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas". But it was when Valentin joined them on stage that the group raised its game. Valentin truly has all the chops that a flautist ought to possess, and then some.
He flutter-tongued, and sang down his flute while overblowing, producing harmonics ("Did you hear what I did?" he asked in the interval - "I played three notes at the same time!"); he disassembled his instrument and continued playing with merely the mouthpiece; and he conclusively proved that, despite its lightness of tone, the flute doesn't have to be a milksop instrument.
Much of the evening's entertainment came from his bizarre behaviour. In his suit and tie, he could have been a businessman about to give a presentation. But no businessman would conduct a meeting with such wild abandon as Valentin, who strutted round the stage like a man possessed, shouted out to the audience and, at one point, conducted an on-mic conversation with Cuber about the relative sizes of their "asses". Valentin even turned about and lifted his jacket to demonstrate that he was lacking in that department.
One can't imagine a British group indulging in such antics without coming across as a novelty act. Maybe it's American showmanship, but Cuber and Valentin did not just get away with it, but used it to augment their musicality.
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