Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Big Bands. July 2012.

Suddenly it is nearly two months on from Edinburgh International Jazz Festival; so I really ought to get my thoughts down on this year’s festival. (And in another week it’ll be time for Islay, too…)

I thought it was a pretty good festival this year: ten gigs in ten evenings, and only one which I didn’t really rate – most of the gigs were excellent, and one superlative that I’ll be very lucky if it isn’t my “gig of the year”; a mixture of local talent and international stars; small bands and big bands; and a range of styles.

The two big bands I saw were playing from the repertoire and, I think, both were essentially one-off projects for the festival – at least, neither seems to have much presence outside the festival.

The first up was the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, playing the music of Gil Evans. The third such gig in a year (after Mark Lockheart’s leading the Trinity Laban Contemporary Jazz Ensemble in the music from “Out of the Cool” and, on Gil’s one hundredth birthday, his son Miles playing first trumpet with the London Jazz Orchestra performing music from “Miles Ahead”) – all of which were wonderful gigs, not least because it is just such a pleasure to hear music familiar through recordings played live. The Edinburgh Festival Jazz Orchestra, lead by Tim Hagans, had wanted to play Evans’ “The Individualism of Gil Evans”, but they couldn’t source the charts – instead they played a first set of Evans’ early work – arrangements of bebop tunes for Claude Thornhill, mostly – and a glorious second set of “Sketches of Spain”, complete, with Hagans taking the lead trumpet part. It was a pleasure all the way – the music sounded fresh and vibrant, the orchestra bringing the music alive.

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The second big band was the World Jazz Orchestra under local boy Joe Temperley playing the music of Duke Ellington. And, in his slipstream, Billy Strayhorn, too. Temperley also had some problems with the charts – they hadn’t made it across the Atlantic (along with his suit and his wife!). This meant that the band leaned on standards more than they had anticipated – though Ellington produced enough of those. For the first couple of numbers it seemed as if they were coasting somewhat, and it wasn’t clear what Temperley was bringing to the bandstand. But then he started playing – mellifluous baritone sax and bass clarinet – and it all clicked: his reeds made all the difference. The highlight was a gorgeous version of “Single Petal of a Rose” – quite magical.

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