Monthly Archives: June 2008

Esbjorn Svensson. June 2008.

I have just learned that Esbjorn Svensson has died.

I was quite shocked by this. Jazz is full of stars who are near to death – there are several musicians I have been to see only because I thought it might be my last chance. (Sometimes I was right.)

But Svensson was younger than me; he died in a scuba diving accident. It is very tragic.

I first saw his band, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio – EST – play ten years ago or so, in a small bar in a basement in Edinburgh. I had been bullied to go by a friend who was promoting the concert. (They told me this evening he had died; I hadn’t seen the papers on Tuesday.) It was crowded that night; I sat in the front row, close enough to Svensson’s piano to turn the music if he had needed it.

It was a brilliant gig: vibrant and exciting, the three musicians producing more sounds than three people ought to. It was very much a band – they were EST rather than Svensson’s band. It is probably the best gig I have been to – well, one of the best. (I have been to a few!)

After that I caught EST whenever I could: I saw them play several times in Edinburgh, in Dundee a couple of times, and in Amsterdam once. I last saw them a year ago – not a great gig: they were in the Usher Hall, and they couldn’t fill such a big space. A friend saw them on the same tour in London, and said they were brilliant, so maybe I just caught an off night.

I was about to buy tickets for their scheduled gig in next month’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival.

Instead, there is an empty space.

I am saddened, and shocked; and I wonder what will happen to the music.

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“Still”, an altar piece by Alison Watt.

This morning I went to see Alison Watt’s installation of four paintings, “Still”, an altar piece in the chapel of remembrance of Old St Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Old Town of Edinburgh.

I have been a couple of times before, and I always find it a very moving experience.  This time, I was prompted by a recent programme on BBC1 Scotland about Watt’s current exhibition at the National Gallery in London.

“Still” is set in a side chapel; it is barely lit by a window to its right, and a small candle flickering directly below the painting.  The left wall is a war memorial, a list of names of those who died – presumably parishioners – in the first and second world wars.

The painting is of hanging cloth, I suppose, and the luxuriant folds suggest loss and absence.

The combination of the painting the long list of names is deeply moving.  The whole really is still; I had to sit a while, just looking.  The light, the painting and the names are very affecting.

It is very, very beautiful.

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Alison Watt is represented by the Ingleby Gallery.

Abdullah Ibrahim. On the Radio. Right Now…

I am listening to Abdullah Ibrahim on Radio 3, with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I have seen Abdullah Ibrahim play many, many times – a couple of the best gigs (evah) were his, but also a couple of the most prissy, stuck-up and irritating ones, too.

He does this thing where he comes across all zen-like, and refuses to hear applause – or bans it outright, playing through from one tune to the next to the next… It can actually be quite irritating, because there is no release of the beautiful tension he builds up.

He is a great pianist and composer, and he is one of the few jazz composers who I am pleased to say breaks my private rule that jazz and strings don’t mix. (The favourite “jazz” albums that people that don’t like jazz like are Bird with Strings, Billie with Strings, or Ella with Strings. Sickly sweet syrupy confections. That don’t swing.)

His “African Suite” – tunes he wrote in other contexts played by his trio and a string orchestra – is just beautiful, sublime music.

But not tonight. Introduced by Petroc Twelawney (how come it is always him MCing Radio 3 concerts I don’t like?) as if Abdullah Ibrahim playing with an orchestra is new (the African Suite recording is ten years old), the BBC Concert Orchestra are – well, syrupy suite; they’re not adding anything, and they don’t swing. They are getting in the way.

The vocal trio featuring Iain Shaw and Cleveland Watkiss (I think) are little better – Shaw’s recognisable voice sounded strangled and angst-ridden, strange among what is fairly chilled, relaxed music.