Live at The Howard Assembly Room, Leeds 28th October 2023
Let’s start with the numbers: 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 3 percussionists, 1 bass, 1 keyboardist, 1 guiro / cantor. Oh, and a Bez. That’s 18 musicians and a dancer – a huge band – and a huge sound. Channelling the Mambo big bands of the forties and fifties that played Cuban music, it’s entirely based on dance, as the keyboardist reminds us; “we won’t talk, you’ve come to dance”. It’s great music – that magic fusion of Spanish stylings and African beats – intricate, yet direct.
The band play straight and loud for half an hour, knocking out a number of historic pieces with toe-tapping rhythms and regular horn blasts. In-your-face sound and all the big band sounds you’d expect. About half an hour in, things hot up and the percussion gets really interesting, weaving complex patterns. Alexis, the band’s Bez, having shown off his astonishing moves earlier, starts to raise some grins and the band seems to start having fun. Alexis moves into the audience. It hasn’t been busy and moves have been gentle shuffles. He sets out choreographing the crowd, focussing all the attention on him in the centre of the hall, with two sides stepping side to side. Things are properly warm now and fun is happening. Somehow, like many Latin bands, things get faster after this and the last twenty minutes are at the sort of pace a native Yorkshire-person just isn’t going to manage and it’s a bit less varied and interesting.
Eighty minutes in, there’s a rapid ending and that’s the lot. No encore and some of the band are surprised that the band has run up against curfew and sadly, it’s down to bad planning. The Howard Assembly Room is a theatre-style venue and their start times are their start times. So when they said it started at 7.45, that’s usually exact. The band confused the venue staff by having a DJ until 8.30, which unfortunately meant that having heard a lot of loud Latin dance music, the New Regency Orchestra were a less of a thrill arriving on stage than they might have been. It was like having an interval before the show but one so loud, we couldn’t talk to our friends.
It’s a shame: If the band had come straight on, we’d have been fresh and excited. As it was, they had to work to warm us up and little energy spilled back to the band for a long while. Troopers that they are, they turned in a hard-working set but weren’t able to make it catch fire till a long way in. Some better planning and communication or maybe a rock style venue will see higher audience energy from the outset – and this band clearly thrives on crowd feedback.