Stramash is Steele’s regular jazz quintet augmented by three fiddlers, a cellist, and a piper; part jazz, then, and part something else. The fiddlers – and they were definitely fiddlers rather than violinists – and the piper give the lie: there is a lot of folk in trumpeter Steele’s new band.
The first set comprised of older numbers which had been re-arranged by pianist Dave Milligan for the larger ensemble. Whilst some jazz-with-strings becomes syrupy and anodyne, the fiddles gave a dynamic, rough edge, balanced by the softer cello. The pipes emphasised the celtic atmosphere of Steele’s tunes, which are firmly rooted in Scottish locations and tradition.
Steele’s trumpet took much more of a backseat role – at times he was simply conducting the strings – as he let the pipes and strings take the lead.
The second half of the concert comprised music composed specially for this band, inspired by a visit to Islay. The music invoked the island well, some tunes reflecting places (Loch Indaal, the Round Church) and others moods (“Farewell My Love” – a lament to leaving the island).
Phil Bancroft played some storming and lyrical tenor and soprano sax solos – in duet with Stu Ritchie’s excellent drums in “Louis’ First Gig” and “The Simpson’s Jig”, another in trio with Ritchie and Milligan, the drums and piano supporting Bancroft as he let fly.
Milligan was excellent throughout, playing some beautiful, mournful solos, and Aidan O’Donnell kept the whole unit together on the bass.
The fiddles knew how to swing, bringing a foot-stamping party spirit to some parts and a soft, Highland lament to others.
This was an energetic, entertaining concert, which brought the audience to its feet, hollering in the ceilidh spirit.