Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Some Edinburgh Jazz Festival Gigs… July 2015.

Nearly a month has passed since the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, so I thought I’d gather my thoughts about some of the gigs I went to.

The big ticket for the festival was Antonio Sanchez’ Migration. They’d had a crap day, their luggage was lost by the airline, and they seemed to be beset by technical problems. But their playing was beautiful. Sanchez drumming was superlative, just wonderful, and I really liked John Escreet’s piano playing. I don’t get Seamus Blake playing an ewi (and his frantic activity when his Mac decided to run out of power proved very distracting), but his tenor playing was great. But the music didn’t hang together for me: they seemed less than the sum of the parts. They played the Meridian suite straight through, and it was quite intense: the frequent rhythm and time changes made it hard work to listen to. It seemed like a prog rock suite to me, more intellectual than emotional.

I decided to see Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet and Enrico Zanisi Trio at the last minute. Indeed I was late, since I mistook the Spiegel Tent in George Sq for the Spiegel Tent in St Andrew Sq. Two Spiegel Tents! Who knew? Well, everyone else who got there on time, obviously. LondonJazz had tweeted an ecstatic review of a London gig by Akinmusire, and I reckoned that if international musicians were going to visit Edinburgh, they deserve an audience. Actually, it was a packed house, and I was lucky to get a seat. Enrico Zanisi Trio played a good though not exceptional set. (Zanisi is playing a couple of solo gigs in more intimate settings in Islay next month.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet were superb. I had no expectations, but was really impressed. Akinmusire has a very clean, crisp sound, and kept away from histrionic solos: it’s like he knows how good he is and doesn’t need to show off. His playing left lots of space, lots of powerful, long notes. Drummer Justin Brown was amazing.

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Trio Red – in this incarnation, Tom Bancroft on drums and Tom Cawley on piano, with Furio di Castri on bass – were joined by writer David Grieg, who improvised stories as the band improvised music. The trio played a couple of numbers without Greig, and they were superb. Bassist di Castri played beautifully, a revelation since I’d not come across him before. (I was told that this was his Scottish debut.) Cawley and Bancroft work really well together, and the three of them made some excellent, incentive music. The intervention of Greig left me in two minds. I loved what he created – humorous, fascinating stories. But I found it distracted from the music: it was hard not to watch the screen on which his words appeared. Still, Trio Red were great, Greig’s words were fun and adventurous, di Castri was phenomenal, and full marks for experimenting.

Thelonious, a project started by Calum Gourlay to play every tune by Thelonious Monk, played a sell out show in the JazzBar. This was the fourth gig I’d seen Gourlay play in five weeks (with the SNJO, his duet gig in Glasgow, and a big band Ellington set earlier in EJF being the others), which probably qualifies me for stalker status. But he is very good (and I can’t recommend his solo CD highly enough). In Thelonious he is joined by Martin Speake on alto, David Dyson on drums and Hans Koller on… euphonium! Another piano-less Monk tribute. Given the instrumentation, I was surprised quite how straight the arrangements were. There was no messing around or weird interpretation, this was pure Monk. And it was very good indeed. They played a mixture of Monk’s standards such as Epistrophe, Criss Cross, Misterioso and Brilliant Corners, with less well known tunes. It was fascinating to hear a whole show of Monk’s sometimes jagged, angular tunes instead of just the occasional number dropped into a set. It emphasised how much of an influence he still is – the music sounded fresh, very now, and simultaneously wacky and normal. Gourlay said they’re recording a CD, and I look forward to it. I’m not sure you can have too much Monk.


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There was plenty of piano with the Dave Milligan Trio. It is great to see Milligan gigging again, and I hope we get to seed more of him: he is a marvellous, gentle, understated pianist, and it feels like he’s a bit of a private secret. Well not too private, because this was another sell out show. With Tom Bancroft on drums and Brodie Jarvie on bass, they played new tunes, a couple from Milligan’s CDs and some standards, including a thoughtful dedication to the late John Taylor. Just a lovely gig.

Edinburgh Art Festival. August 2013.

I did a bit of the Art Festival today.

I went to Wind Pipes for Edinburgh, an installation in a former church (a wonderful space off the Royal Mile which I didn’t know existed!). An organ playable by visitors, made of bits of waste pipes. The deep notes had a very breathy sound, almost alive. It was driven by huge bellows, and I thought it was just wonderful.

I then went to Rose Street to see Kenny Watson’s The Days, a humorous installation of a year’s worth of Edinburgh Evening News hoardings. Taken out of context, the headlines take on a surreal meaning, illuminating the paper’s obsessions (crime, sex, perverts and dust bin collections).

What I hadn’t realised was that in an annex were videos of Complaints Choirs around the world. I had heard the Edinburgh Complaints Choir on the radio, but I hadn’t bothered to seek them out. (They were singing complaints on the Royal Mile.) Coming across these videos, I wish I had. I found them funny and illuminating. I watched four, I think: Tokyo, Birmingham, Helsinki and Hamburg. Those in foreign languages had more impact – particularly Tokyo – I think reading the words and contrasting the sounds to the complaints brings more poignancy. That said, I am completely ear-wormed by the Birmingham choir.

I loved these videos. They were so unexpected, surprising, challenging AND ordinary that they changed my perception – certainly about choirs!

Here are the videos.




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Fringe. August 2013.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival starts this weekend. Perhaps you’ve noticed the wall-to-wall media coverage. From now until early September, Edinburgh will be full of people visiting from London to watch other people visiting from London perform.

It has made me realise that I have never “done” the Fringe.

Which is not to say that I have never been to a Fringe show. Quite the opposite. When I first moved to Edinburgh in 1982, I spent the summer working with a student theatre company; the next four Fringes I either worked doing tech for a student company or front of house for a theatre club (it was a club in order to get around safety regulations, I think; membership was signing away various rights. Plus it allowed them to have a late licence the rest of the year, too. Either way, because it was a club meant that they had to employ students – like me – to ensure that people coming in were members) – some years, both.

When I returned to live and work in Edinburgh in the 1990s, I would go to many Fringe show each year, though my enthusiasm for the Fringe was quickly replaced by that for the Festival proper (generally much more interesting and reliable than the Fringe – and better value).

No, I have been to a great many Fringe performances; but I have never “done” the Fringe as the many, many tourists do. Cramming in five or six shows a day, queuing for tickets and returns, crowding into the Royal Mile, and spending the rest of the time in the pub.

And frankly, I never will!

“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.