Welcome to the new home for my posts on jazz and other cultural things which interest me. I have been blogging on another platform, as well as doing occasional reviews for the LondonJazz blog for a while, and decided to gather things together on WordPress.
I have compiled an index of all musicians, artists and venues, though I can’t guarantee this will always be completely up to date.
The SNJO were joined by Gwilym Simcock to play some new music of his, a suite called “Release”. I’ve seen Gwilym play several times – the first was with the inestimable John Taylor at this venue, fifteen years ago. (Taylor played with the SNJO’s leader, Tommy Smith, on many occasions – I wonder if the similarities in their piano style made Smith think of Simcock for this project?) But I’ve never seen Simcock play with a large ensemble before this. Suffice to say, it was a great evening – the music was exciting and accessible, and played to the band’s many strengths.
(A friend reviewed the gig for LondonJazzNews, using a couple of my pictures.)
Soundhouse pit on Helena Kay at the Traverse a couple of weeks ago – and as the last couple of times Kay brought her trio with Calum Gourlay (bass) and Dave Ingamells (drums) to Edinburgh, they were joined by Pete Johnstone on piano. This was just a lovely show: I think I was smiling from start to finish. All four musicians were excellent – I was sitting near Ingamells, and the concentration on his face as he played was palpable. Kay’s playing was just a joy. Most of the tunes came from their last album, Golden Sands. Needless to say, I took many photos – though none of Johnstone, since he had his back to me. The whole gig felt like a treat.
Back in January “Playtime” host Tom Bancroft was joined by his brother Phil on saxophone, Elchin Shirinov on piano, and bassist Ewan Hastie, who won BBC Young Jazz Musician 2022 last November. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear this exciting young bassist close up. And I took some pictures.
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra played the music of Duke Ellington in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. It was a particularly excellent evening. They were superb. I mean, they always seem to play exceptionally well, but they outclassed themselves. It was frankly brilliant, maybe down to Ellington’s (and, dare I say it, Strayhorn’s) music as much as their own expertise. They covered a variety of moods – an exquisite Single Petal of a Rose, one of several pieces from the Queen’s Suite through to a storming Diminuendo and Cresendo in Blue, which garnered a standing oveation for Tommy Smith’s superb twenty seven-chorus solo. Just a wonderful evening full of beautiful and exciting music!
Another concert at the Usher Hall tonight – Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Wayne Marshall playing a programme of Gershwin, Bernstein and Copland. And more Gershwin.
They started with Rhapsody In Blue, Marshall directing from the piano. It was very – well, bluesy. In the piano parts, Marshall seemed to be improvising a fair bit (I’ve no idea if that’s in the score or not), and it was great. He seemed to take a very flexible approach to the tempo, and it worked really well. It’s rare that classical orchestras swing, but SCO was really up for it. The opening clarinet meet me smile, and I kept smiling throughout. An excellent performance.
The Bernstein was new to me and most of the audience too – Marshall had to tell us to clap at the end because no one was sure if it was over: it was a very episodic piece, Fancy Free, based on a ballet score. It was very dynamic – there were quite moments when it reminded me of Copland’s Quiet City. The actual Copland piece was El Salón México. Not a piece I know, somewhat lighter than other pieces.
The second Gershwin piece was a symphonic arrangement of Porgy And Bess. As far as I’m concerned, the definitive version is Gil Evans’ arrangement for Miles Davis – music I want played at my funeral. (Not all of it!). I have a couple of other jazz versions, too, and I’ve heard the opera (on CD conducted by Rattle and also on the radio, I think). The opera was really disappointing – overly long and portentous. Whereas Gil Evans said it all in forty minutes.
This arrangement was by Robert Russell Bennett, a contemporary and occasional assistant of Gershwin’s (thank you, Google), in 1942. It worked really well. All the tunes were there (nearly) and it flowed from one theme to another. I had to stop myself singing along at places (Summertime and Ain’t Necessarily So…).
It was Marshall and the SCO that made it of course: the orchestra really seemed to be into it. At one point I thought the tympanist was going to start dancing around her drums. All the percussionists were good; actually, the whole orchestra was good. It just felt right.
For an encore, Marshall played an improvisation around I Got Rhythm on the impressive organ. In all the times I’ve been to the Usher Hall, I don’t remember hearing the organ played. Maybe in a Bruckner or Mahler symphony? This was a fun coda to the evening. Who could ask for anything more?