Monthly Archives: July 2017

“Thelonious”. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2017.

The band Thelonious – definitely not Calum Gourlay’s band, he kept telling us – played two nights at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival, at two venues, and their performances felt quite different: one good and one excellent.

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It is an interesting band: a tribute to Monk without a pianist. This confused some people – the guy next to me at the Jazz Bar, the first night, kept saying “How can you have a band playing Monk without a pianist?” The answer is: very easily. With Gourlay on bass, Martin Speake on alto and Hans Koller on euphonium, together with local drummer Tom Bancroft for these shows, the instrumentation allows one to concentrate on the melodies that Monk crafted. With a pianist, one would waste energy comparing them to Monk – was the pianist copying, did they get that bit right…? Without the choppy angularity of Monk’s piano playing and his sometimes idiosyncratic chords, it was all down to the tunes.

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And what tunes. They didn’t repeat any number over the two shows, and still managed not to play my favourites (Well You Needn’t, I Mean You and, tops, In Walked Bud. Next time, guys…). They played famous numbers like Round Midnight, Epistrophe, and Pannonica and tunes I’d not heard before, such as Teo, We See, and Ask Me Now. I thought I knew Brilliant Corners, but clearly I was mistaken – perhaps the most jagged of the pieces played, it reminded me of Jackie McLean’s Melody for Melonae – and McLean was also recognised when the band played Jackie-ing.

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The euphonium gave the music a rich, rounded sound, in contrast to Monk’s often spiky feel. Speake’s alto sparkled, and the rhythm section of Gourlay and Bancroft were superb. Gourlay – who seemed to be everywhere in the first half of the festival – is a very confident, accomplished musician. I’m so used to seeing Bancroft play in more improvising bands that it was refreshing to hear him playing such swinging drums.

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I thought the first night at the Jazz Bar was the better of the two shows, perhaps because I had more to drink, the atmosphere at the venue – the second night in the basement of the Rose Theatre wasn’t as full – or maybe just because it was a Sunday. But still great fun!

John Scofield Uberjam / Mike Stern & Randy Brecker Band. Edinburgh, July 2017.

Friday was the start of the jazz festival, and the first of my twelve gigs over ten days: John Scofield Uberjam and the Mike Stern / Randy Brecker band at the Festival Theatre.

I went mainly because I love Scofield’s music: I first saw him round about the release of Time On My Hands, nearly thirty years ago. But it was actually Stern who impressed on the night.

John Scofield Uberjam were good but it felt a bit perfunctory. Good jazz-funk, but it never really caught fire. I expected brilliance, and felt a bit disappointed. But even on an off night – and this wasn’t an off night – Scofield is still better than most.

I think I was most disappointed with Dennis Chambers: an awesomely experienced drummer. Someone told me after the gig that he’d had sound problems. What he did was good, but he didn’t shine.

Whereas the Mike Stern / Randy Brecker band were superlative. Their start was delayed by technical problems with Brecker’s trumpet mike (I think): Stern joked about, chatting to the audience and strumming his guitar – “I’ve been working on that for years”, he joked.

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Mike Stern. Not at this gig, but hey, he looks just the same.

And when they got going, they were superb. They had Lenny White in the drum chair: he played on (bits of) Bitches Brew with Miles Davis, nearly fifty years ago. And last night he was amazing. He made it look easy.

Brecker’s trumpet playing was great, even when he still looked pissed off after his sound problems. The bass player, Teymur Phell (at least that’s who was billed – I couldn’t catch his name) was very impressive, playing a seven- or eight-string bass, not showy off but hugely competent.

And Mike Stern was… Mike Stern. His mood seems infectious – even before he started playing it seemed like he was having so much fun, and really pleased to be there. He comes across like he’s a fan of his own band, cheering their solos, and loving the applause he received fun the audience, too.

I’ve seen him play several times in the last few years, none of which I went to because of him: but every time he has excelled. Hugely entertaining.