Monthly Archives: January 2009

Colin Steele Quintet. Edinburgh, January 2009.

I saw the Colin Steele Quintet play at the Lot – one of a series of gigs featuring Steele in different settings coming up in Edinburgh and thereabouts over the next few months.

I have seen Steele play a lot recently – and it is always an exciting gig. This time around, there seemed to be a new maturity to the band’s sound – there was a lot more space than the last time I saw them play, at Islay. This may have come from the setting – a small club in Edinburgh as opposed to a hungover village hall on a Sunday lunchtime (which, believe me, has its own special charm!). But I think real change was in bassist Calum Gourlay: back in September, he was playing his first gig with the band, and perhaps it showed. (Maybe he washungover, too!) This time, he was on top of the music, playing with great confidence, and allowing the rest of the band to stretch out more, too.

This allowed Dave Milligan a lot more freedom, and he took several excellent extended solos. Milligan’s new found freedom also allowed saxophonist Phil Bancroft and trumpeter Steele more space: the whole band was freed up.

They might also have been helped by playing both a reduced set, given them the time to develop each tune, and Steele picking some tunes the band haven’t played recently.

Wherever the maturity came from, everything seemed to come together last week – this was a cracking gig, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!


Recognition. January 2009.

I have been playing jazz on the iPod through the hifi.

I just recognised a tune from the first note: a cymbal crash. I heard the sound and started singing (well, I call it singing…) the theme as it came in.

From that simple sound, I knew the tune and all its parts – the tempo, mostly – and knew all the rest.

It was of course a tune I knew well, and particularly like: Spiritual, by John Coltrane, from the Afro Blue Impressions album (which you can listen to for free on all of it. If you don’t know it, it is a brilliant album, full of exciting, life-affirming music. Go listen!)

I am pretty good at recognising artists from tunes, and often early on into a tune: a couple of notes in to what is playing now I knew it was Colin Steele – a trumpeter.

But I am still surprised that I recognised Spiritual from the first cymbal beat.

My last partner used to quiz me repeatedly on how I recognised pieces of music. I could never say; it annoyed the hell out of her. How do I know Coltrane when I hear him? How do I know that the saxophonist I’m listening to now is Andy Sheppard? (The really interesting thing is that I have just realised it is Andy Sheppard; but it is not an Andy Sheppard CD, which I had thought it was – it is a Gil Evans’ big band CD.)

Part of it is down to recognising the tune; a lot of it is down to recognising the style – but I don’t know how I recognise a musicians’ style: I know it’s Sheppard, but I can’t say why. Yesterday, shuffle threw up a piano trio piece, and I knew the bassist was Charlie Mingus. But I couldn’t say how I knew. Miles stands out on trumpet.

Part of it is in the music, too. I have little early jazz, so it is either going to be Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington – easy to tell apart. Small group 1940s jazz – either Lester Young (Count Basie) or Ellington again. The main practitioners of bebop are pretty easy to identify, too. Jazzrock? I have only a handful of jazzrock CDs, and they are ok to tell apart.

I suppose I should be good at recognising drummers, anyway. Art Blakey is a dead giveaway – something in the way he did his fills: there is something instantly recognisable about Blakey. Elvin Jones – the drummer most associated with Coltrane – had a unique style, too.

But I am still surprised to identify him off a single cymbal beat.

The human brain is really rather remarkable.