After some rather good food, we moved to the newly re-opened City Halls for a jazz concert. It opened with the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, a bunch of very talented adolescents who frankly put a lot of fully grown musicians to shame. They played a set of standards – Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo A La Turk”, Oliver Nelson’s “Hoe-Down” (the original track ins on the wonderfully named album “Blues and the Abstract Truth”… the music is as good as the name, too), Ellington’s “Cottontail” and “Moten Swing” (Basie, I think).
This was a young band – they are all between thirteen and twenty one – did you get that – thirteen – indeed, one of the thirteen year olds – I think he’s called Liam Neath (but don’t quote me) – is a cracking trumpet player who Tommy Smith had in the line up of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra last time I saw them – this kid played Miles Davis’ lines from “My Ship” beautifully, with a rich, bell-like tone.
And he was great here, too. They are young – each musician was a bit derivative – a bit of Miles here, some Coltrane there – but they were great. Given a few years – a chance to find their own voices – and they will be terrific.
My only criticism is that they seemed to lack a bit of energy at times – it wasn’t a full sound. To be honest, I think the PA was just turned down, because the second band was just louder.
They finished of with a cracking big band version of Salt Peanuts – so they had covered swing and bebop – and those are hard tunes to play. And it was great.
Second up was the European Youth Jazz Orchestra. I felt this was stretching the definition of youth slightly – whilst Tommy’s band were barely into adolescence, EYJO were well into their twenties, and a few looked like they were pushing their thirties. Whilst TSYJO played standards, EYJO played all new material, and it was heavily orchestrated – they were playing the dots. The soles were great – they had all found their voice – but the whole thing felt very arranged – it lacked the rough edges that the kids had had. There was some great piano playing, and the saxes and trumpets really went for it, and it sounded great.
They brought on a piper for an arrangement of “Coming Through The Rye” – and he swung, too. (There have been a lot of pipes in jazz recently; John Rae’s Big Feet used about twenty of them a while back, and Colin Steele mixed pipe, fiddles, saxes and trumpets with a wonderful effectiveness in his band Stramash last month; there is a long history of pipes in jazz – Sonny Rollin’s used the pipes live back in the sixties – there is a recording of the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” featuring saxes and pipes.)
But the whole had the feel of a show gig – maybe like they were trying too hard. So the band was good – very good – but it all felt a little too arranged to really take off.