Tag Archives: Brian Kellock

Ryan Quigley Quartet and Quintet. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2017.

I saw Ryan Quigley play two gigs during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival: the first a quartet, the second a quintet. The quartet gig was with Brian Kellock (one of many unsung local heroes) on piano, Kenny Ellis on bass and John Rae in drums. I had thought it was just going to be Quigley and Kellock playing duets – and they started the second set with a few exquisite pieces, just the two of them – but the quartet was great, too: a very enjoyable evening of standards. It was a real pleasure to hear them play familiar tunes – Softly As A Morning Sunrise, Caravan, Moanin’ (the Benny Golson / Jazz Messengers’ tune, not the Mingus one), Cherokee – spot on swinging bebop. The Quigley-Kellock duo played a mesmerising and rather apt Cheek to Cheek, Quigley standing beside the piano and blowing without amplification.

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The quintet gig was more bebop: dedicated to the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. With Quigley amply qualified to take the trumpet parts, the real joy was his guest standing in for Bird: Soweto Kinch. I’ve seen him play his own music a few times, but never tackling hardcore bebop tunes like these. I knew he could play, but he owned these tunes: he took to these numbers like a Bird to water.

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This music, though decades old, still has the ability to excite. They tore through tunes such as Hot House and A Night In Tunisia at great speed, Kinch showing how dexterous he is. The rhythm section – Mario Caribe on bass, Alyn Cosker on drums and Alan Benzie on piano – were equally at home with this material. Another hugely enjoyable gig. Boptastic!

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Four Jazz Gigs. Edinburgh, February and March, 2015.

February and March have been quite busy for music. As well as the usual gigs around Edinburgh, Jazz Scotland have been running a series of tours, which continues this week.

The two Jazz Scotland gigs I enjoyed a lot; the two others less so. I don’t expect to enjoy everything, and I think it is healthy to test new ground, going to hear new bands. Sometimes this pays dividends; sometimes it leads to disappointment.

The first jazz gig I went in February was one of the latter. I have seen Kit Downes many times, mostly playing in an acoustic setting, but a couple of times playing organ in the Golden Age of Steam. So I was looking forward to seeing Troyka, in which he plays electric keyboards, with Joshua Blackmore on drums and Chris Montague on guitar.

I’m afraid I hated it. The music did nothing for me at all: I found it soulless and mechanical, a world away from Downes acoustic piano playing. I left early, having given it a fair go. I must say I was definitely in the minority: everyone else in the packed out gig at the Voodoo Rooms seemed to love it. I was clearly missing something, but I wasn’t going to hand around to find out what it was.

The first gig I went to of the Jazz Scotland season featured Ravi Coltrane, with Konrad Wiszniewski/Euan Stevenson Quartet in support, in the somewhat plush and sold out setting of the Royal Lyceum Theatre. The Wiszniewski/Stevenson Quartet were great, playing some things from their New Focus album of a couple of years back plus some other pieces. They had Mike Janisch on bass, who was on Wiszniewski’s last album, and Alyn Cosker on drums. There was a gentle subtlety to the music. Stevenson is an impressive pianist. The whole thing just worked for me, albeit that we had to make do with a short support set.

I wasn’t familiar with Coltrane’s music, perhaps having been negatively influenced by his family connections – and coming on after Wiszniewski-Stevenson meant Ravi Coltrane’s quartet had their work cut out: I didn’t initially warm to it. But about half way through their set, something clicked. They were excellent. Coltrane evoked comparisons with Wayne Shorter and Branford Marsalis rather than his father John, though both Shorter and Marsalis came out of John Coltrane’s influence. Rather than Coltrane senior’s stream of consciousness saxophone playing, Ravi seemed to employ a more impressionistic, almost abstract approach. Pianist David Virelles was suitably intense, and Jonathon Blake – who is a large man – played with remarkable grace and subtlety, and impressive speed. This was a reminder that there is always great music out there to be discovered, and I’m annoyed at myself for not giving Coltrane the attention I should previously.

The following week, Edinburgh was graced by a near-local boy done good when Fife expat reedsman Joe Temperley paid a brief visit. He was accompanied by the ever impressive Brian Kellock on piano. This was just sublime. Playing mainly baritone and (I think) bass clarinet, Temperley was masterful, and Kellock – a national treasure, frankly, was great too. It was pretty mainstream repertoire – a lot of Ellington, including a heartbreaking version of Single Petal of a Rose (one of my favorite Ellington tunes), as well as a couple of Thelonious Monk numbers, Tal Farlow’s Good Bait and some other standards. It felt like a very intimate gig – just the two of them, and a load of us. It was magical.

The next night I went to see GoGo Penguin. I normally try to avoid going to gigs on consecutive nights, preferring to spread them out, but I had heard good things of this trio and didn’t want to miss them. There were playing in a night club – what used to be called a disco – and it was absolutely packed, an hour before the show. The audience was very different from a typical Edinburgh jazz crowd – perhaps due to their presence on the Mercury short list, perhaps because they’ve got a good publicist (I saw very little publicity for the gig – but I’m not sure I’m the target audience), perhaps because there is something about their music which had grabbed their audience’s attention – whatever, they have crossed over in a significant way.

For the first three numbers, the sound was truly awful. There was bass feedback which masked the music, the bass drum was so loud that it vibrated my internal organs and I couldn’t hear the piano. The effect made me nauseous. As I moved to leave, I walked past the sound desk; I considered throwing up over it – it couldn’t have made the sound worse. But by the time I got to the back of the club, either sound had been tweaked or the mass of people between me and the band were providing an adequate baffle. It was still loud, but bearable, and not nauseating. I could hear the piano and the rest of the drums.

Overall, I felt it was impressive but unengaging. I certainly wasn’t grabbed by the music. (Again, I am happy to admit I was clearly in the minority. Everyone else seemed ecstatic.) Revolving around repeated piano lines with throbbing acoustic bass and double-speed drumming, it felt a bit like Neil Cowley Trio on steroids without the emotional heft and with added drum-and-bass. I felt like I ought to love it – there was a lot there which I might have expected to – but just couldn’t.

(I picked up a copy of their album as I left the gig, because I really did want to give them a chance. The band seemed a little nonplussed that I didn’t want them to sign it. I have played it a few times, but I remain ungrabbed by it. It seems too intellectual, cold and unemotional to me. I may cube back to it and see I’ve been wrong, but I’m not sure about that.)

Two Gigs: eyeshutight and Tommy Smith & Brian Kellock.

I went to two gigs on consecutive evenings last week, something I try to avoid – but the second was arranged long ago, and when I learned about the first I didn’t want to miss it. They were sufficiently different not to clash.

The first was eyeshutight at the JazzBar. A piano trio, they played with passion and intensity; the first number – or maybe several pieces concatenated – lasted over half an hour. The pieces – or perhaps sections – twist around their themes, as the musicians shift rhythms and tempo. The trio have that second sense built up over lots of gigs, I imagine, happy to follow each other wherever they may go. A very engrossing, enjoyable gig. (I picked up their latest CD at the gig, “Resonance”, which I reviewed for LondonJazz. It’s well worth a listen.)

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The JazzBar managed something quite spectacular that evening: both a very sparse crowd and people determined to talk over the music! To be fair, it was only one table of six who chatted through the first half, and they decided the music wasn’t for them; but that left only six of us in the audience. We were very appreciative, though! I hope eyeshutight give Edinburgh another go – we’ll have to see if we can get more people out next time!

* * *

The following evening I headed down to Peebles, where a friend of mine had grabbed me a ticket to see Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duet. I realised that I first saw Tommy play as a teenager – thirty years ago, before he left Scotland to study at Berklee. I have seen him, many, many times since – including with Brian Kellock. They’ve just released a second CD of their duets, “Whispering of the Stars”, a companion piece to their earlier outing “Bezique”.

Playing a set consisting solely of standards – most going back to the 1920s and 30s (only a Chick Corea piece and Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose” came from the second half of the twentieth century). “The Surrey With The Fringe on Top”, ” I Want To Be Happy”, “Stardust” and many others filled the two sets.

Whilst the tunes may have been dated, the music was timeless. It seems like Kellock and Smith are playing better than ever. Kellock impresses me more each time I see him, and the duo setting with Smith gives him freedom to really explore the tunes; his left hand keeping the rhythm going and allowing Smith to stretch out. That just two people can create such good music from what might be considered hackneyed sources is impressive.

Celebrating Lennie Tristano at Edinburgh Jazz Festival. July 2014.

I’m not sure why Edinburgh Jazz Festival programmed a series of gigs around the influential pianist Lennie Tristano, but it was an interesting collection of performances over two gigs (with an extra bonus later week).

The support act on both gigs were the Roby Glod Trio. Taking Tristano’s tunes (and those of his acolytes, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh) as a starting point, saxophonist Glod lay down dense, fast sheets of notes. Tristano was one of the instigators of “cool jazz”; I found Glod’s two sets distinctly cold: interesting to observe, not part of it at all.

The opposite was true of the Kenny Ellis Trio’s set. With a chameleon-like Brian Kellock on piano and an alto player (whose name I missed…), bassist Ellis brought some warmth back to the proceedings. Both Kellock and the alto player took to their roles, the saxophonist sounding uncannily like Konitz.

Kellock has a remarkable ability to adopt others’ styles whilst sounding completely himself. He brought that skill back to the evening session when he occupied the piano stool for the Martin Kershaw Quintet. They played a wonderful set.

Kershaw on alto was joined by Julian Arguelles on tenor, with Ed Kelly on bass and the ever-excellent Alyn Cosker on drums. The contrast with Glod’s opening set was even more striking, with Kershaw and Arguelles proving Louis Armstrong’s saying that “…Hot can be cool, and cool can be hot…” In the place of Glod’s onslaught, the saxophonists brought a thoughtfulness to play, and produced some lovely music. Where other musicians might produce a torrent of notes, whilst backing a solo by Kershaw, Arguelles played just one over several choruses – a wonderful example of restraint (and circular breathing).

Their subjects – Tristano, Konitz and Marsh – informed their playing but didn’t dominate. They adopted the dynamics of those relationships without inhibiting their own creativity.

This was a lovely gig, with some wonderful music.

* * *

Later in the festival, I caught another gig that by design it accident echoed Kershaw’s quintet. The Pal Nyberg Quartet played two sets featuring Nyberg’s originals – and a host of numbers by Tristano, Konitz and Marsh, all of which had been featured by Kershaw. It has a very different feel, not least because of the instrumentation – guitar, tenor, bass and drums. This made it feel a bit fussy to my ears – enjoyable enough, but string in comparison to Kershaw’s outing.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival. July 2013.

July’s Jazz Festival was understandably busy. Ten gigs in ten days, with a couple of extra, excellent outdoor events, too. It was a fun time.

I tried to balance newer and old music, musicians I knew (and knew I liked) with people I’d not heard before; and a range of styles and groups. I won’t cover every gig I went to, but I’d like to cover those that worked well, or didn’t.

The festival opened fire with the Brian Kellock Copenhagen Trio. Kellock is a great pianist, with a chimeric skill in mixing genres and styles whilst presenting an engaging whole. His music twists and turns as he moves from stride to Monk and references more modern, keeping the bass and drums in their toes – and there was clearly a fair bit of joshing going on between the three of them.

Kellock filled some very big shoes when, a few days later, he took the place of Stan Tracey, who had pulled out of his quartet gig with Bobby Wellins due to illness. So it became the Wellins Quartet, with Clark Tracey on drums and Andrew Cleyndert on bass. This was a fun gig, but Kellock seemed subdued – at least compared to his form earlier in the festival – and it felt a bit as if the band were going through the motions. Good, but not outstanding.

The festival was beset with illness, losing the last night headliner Pharoah Sanders as well as Tracey. This was a big disappointment, since Sanders is one of the remaining firebrands from the 1960s avant garde, and not having seen him live for many years I had been looking forward to seeing how he had settled into life as an elder statesman.

The Italian/Sardinian-Scottish connection in Stone Islands had been forged at last year’s festival, when Scots trumpet Colin Steele and pianist Dave Milligan teamed up with reedsman Enzo Favata. That was one of the surprise hits last year, and their return with an extended band this year was eagerly awaited. My expectations worked against them, since I thought they were excellent, but I was still disappointed! Tinged with a folk feel and featuring saxophonists Martin Kershaw and Konrad Wisniewzski, this ten piece had some of the anarchy of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath. They made a great sound, but didn’t quite capture the magic or excitement of last year’s debut.

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Despite the familiarity of a band I had seen four or five times in the last year, the Neil Cowley Trio put on such a high energy show that they couldn’t fail to excite. Very much a band, each member is integral to the sound, from Evan Jenkins’ powerhouse drumming, through metronomic Rex Horan’s bass playing to Cowley’s passionate piano. Their tunes move from subtle to intense to loud, and they do it all very well. This was just a superb gig, the power of a rock band with the intricacy and emotion of – well, a jazz trio.

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They were just beaten as highlight of the festival by the Festival Orchestra’s performance of Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Music. I had mixed feelings ahead of this gig. It was a must-see because it was a rare opportunity to here this music played live; but I was worried it would just be played note for note. And the involvement of a classical choir meant it might not sound like jazz at all. The Ellington recordings of his sacred music can feel like a missed opportunity, a little bit too sacred. This gig was, however, a joy from beginning to end. Directed by Clark Tracey, the band and choir swung like the clappers, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus clearly enjoying the added freedom from their more usual classical constraints. Joined for several numbers by dancer Junior Laniyan, whose own percussive take added to the driving drums of Tom Gordon, the band were magnificent. The whole gig was like a hymn to Ellington and an earlier age. Absolutely wonderful.

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Bach to Bite. October-November 2012.

At the end of October and the beginning of November, it felt like I was practically living at the Queens Hall: I went to four concerts there in two weeks.

First up were two jazz gigs: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra played a concert of Ellington pieces, and a week later I saw Tommy Smith’s Karma. (Smith is also director of SNJO.) The Ellington gig started off a bit delicately, as if the repertoire was more important: it felt very much like they were reading rather than playing, the dots being a bit precious. But they stretched out at the end of the first set with a great version of “Rockin’ in Rhythm” which laid the foundations for a roaring second set. They played tunes from the whole of Ellington’s (and Strayhorn’s) career – from “Harlem Airshaft” through to some tunes from The Queen’s Suite, the Nutcracker Suite and the Peer Gynt Suite. “Single Petal of A Rose”, from the Queen’s Suite, was a gorgeous duet between Smith and Brian Kellock, pianist for the night (who was on great form all night). They closed the second set with storming “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue”, with Smith blowing chorus after chorus in the role made famous by Paul Gonsalves.

I last saw Smith’s Karma quartet in last year’s London Jazz Festival when they played a single, truncated set. I had felt a bit ambivalent about the band, so the opportunity of seeing them play a full gig seemed interesting. I am still ambivalent: the playing was superb, particularly Steve Hamilton on keyboards, but every time they got going, the rhythm or the tempo would change. It felt like 1980s prog, as if they couldn’t let their playing alone long enough to get on with the music. Very fiddly.

A few days later, Angela Hewitt played a concert of solo piano pieces by Bach. The second half was taken up with (I think) twelve pieces from The Art of Fugue. It was exquisitely beautiful and at times quite jazzy, but despite Ms Hewitt explaining that bits were improvised, it also felt formulaic – inasmuch as it was clear what would happen next. Programmed music, perhaps.

The last concert of my self-curated series was perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the (erm) wackiest. I have been aware of Matthew Herbert‘s role as a big band composer for a long time, though I only have one of his recordings, and he has recently got a new job, so when I saw his show “One Pig was coming to Edinburgh, I knew I wanted to see it. It was – well, hard to describe. Musically, the nearest experience I have to it was a concert of “industrial music” created by chainsaws and sledgehammers that I saw in one of Edinburgh’s cathedrals about 30 years ago. (It might have been Test Dept; which, I read, were founded by Alistair Farquharr, who went on the form NVA who produced “Speed of Light“. A definite feeling of connectedness…) “One Pig” was music, but of a strange, different kind. It was even danceable, but – well, noise.

There wasn’t much to look at: a drummer sitting at a kit of electronic drum pads (Tom Skinner, who I’d seen playing avant garde jazz before), an electronic keyboard player, and two people (including Herbert) operating computers. The fifth member, Yann Seznec, stood in the middle of the stage enclosed within what looked like a boxing ring: this was what Herbert called the “sty-harp“, created by Seznec. (This post describes how you could make one of your own.) Seznec pulled on the strings to interact with the sounds: much of the sound in “One Pig” was sampled from the pig; its bones used to make percussion instruments, its skin used as the head of a drum. The sty-harp as well as the computers and samplers operated by Herbert changed the sounds coming from other sources – the drums and the keyboard. It was difficult to tell what was actually making the noises – there was little to connect the musicians’ actions to the sounds they created.

Towards the end of the piece, a chef appeared behind the musicians and started to cook some pork (not the one pig, I hope – that was slaughtered some months ago), the sounds from the frying pan sampled and used in the music.

But the strangest effect came at the end: the noises stopped and Herbert sang a simple song, accompanied by an untreated piano. It was startling and jarring. A most curious concert.

Andersen, Smith & Cosker and the Brian Kellock Trio. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2008.

The collaboration between Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith – winner of a recent award in the BBC jazz awards and Norwegian bass player Arild Andersen goes back a few years; I saw them in the ethereal setting of the Round Church in Bowmore, Islay, which produced a concert of such exquisite beauty that I was a little scared to see them again: how could they possibly match up to that memory, especially with the addition of Cosker on drums?

In Bowmore, the combination of the saxophone and the bass had created a mesmeric, meditative sound that was wholly suited to the setting. Andersen had used his ingenuity and some whizzy technology to set up loops of his percussive bass, providing rhythm to which he and Smith played their gentle melodies. How could drums not contrive to break that spell? Particular since I have seen Cosker play before, and he can be a loud, brash and domineering drummer.

The trio answered my concerns within moments. Andersen played a series of pizzicato phrases, looped them and set up a complex rhythm; and Cosker joined in seamlessly, working abstractly away from the beat. With Smith playing tenor, they created some magical sounds, mixing jazz and folk sensibilities to create their own sound.

It was beautifully contemplative, emotional music, the sounds meshing together to create a vivid soundscape. Stunningly lovely.

I have seen Smith and Andersen twice before – they toured Scotland in the autumn of 2006, when they also recorded together (apparently, they are releasing a CD on ECM this autumn – I don’t know if it was the 2006 sessions that provided the music for the CD) – and every gig I have seen them in was in a church or former church – the Round Church, the Lot, and now the Hub. Perhaps they choose their venues to fit the sound they produce…

* * *

Andersen, Smith and Cosker were followed onto the stage at the Hub by a trio of Brian Kellock on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. They started off very free and open, Kellock scattering notes seemingly at random, Wilson working his kit and an assortment of hand-held percussion in response, leaving Lightcap to hold it together. This worked really well, the three of them creating an abstract space to explore.

After about ten minutes, the pianos chords resolved into “The Way You Look Tonight”, and Kellock started to play it straight ahead in the mainstream. After the experimental start, I thought this would be temporary, Kellock showing where he had come from and that he could play different styles. Instead, they were firmly stuck in the mainstream for the next hour or so.

This was a pity. They didn’t match the interest they had generated early; they played it very straight – it was good, they knew what they were doing, and they played some great standards, but it wasn’t the same.

They were joined for the last three numbers by Lianne Carroll as guest vocalist. I don’t particularly like jazz singers – and as jazz singers go, I thought Carroll was all right – the vocals didn’t impinge too much – she was using her voice as an instrument in the ensemble, rather being the dominant voice – but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Perhaps I had been spoiled after the wonderful set by Andersen, Smith and Cosker; either, I wasn’t especially enamoured of the trio. All right as far as it went, but they had shown so much more promise.

Colin Steele & Friends. Edinburgh, May 2008.

Another gig in Edinburgh: this time Colin Steele and Brian Kellock with the house band at the Jazz Bar.

I had noticed trumpeter Steele concentrating hard on Enrico Rava’s playing earlier in the week. In the subterranean dive of the Jazz Bar, he took the limelight – it was his evening.

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They played standards, rather than Steele’s own music, but his playing was scintillating. Reaching for the high notes – and hitting them – his trumpet sounded ringing and striking.

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Keith Edwards on tenor produced a rich tone which balanced Steele’s more strident sound – Edwards played some great solos, and the two of them bounced lines around in true chasing style.

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Kellock played less of a role than I had expected, and Bill Kyle, who plays drums as well running the Jazz Bar, could have been more forceful and driving – it felt like he was hanging back behind Edwards and Steele.

My one gripe was the audience: they got louder and louder and louder, until I could hear more of the audience than I could of the music – and I was sitting at the front! Why go to a jazz gig to talk? It the depths of the cellar, the chatter was distracting. It was good for the bar – a lot of people means they must have sold a lot of beer! – but a shame for the music.

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