Tag Archives: EJF

Tommy Smith & Fergus McCreadie Duo. Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, July 2019.

I reviewed the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival for LondonJazzNews; here are some more photos of the Tommy Smith & Fergus McCreadie Duo.

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Tom & Okoe African Groove Machine. Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, July 2019.

I reviewed the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival for LondonJazzNews; here are some more photos of the Tom & Okoe African Groove Machine gig.

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Martin Kershaw Octet and Mark Hendry Large Ensemble: Orchestral Jazz at Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2018.

Two gigs on successive nights at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival fell firmly into the category of “orchestral jazz”.

The first featured the Martin Kershaw Octet. Well, they started as a quartet in the first half, Kershaw on saxes joined by Paul Harrison on piano, Doug Hough on drums and Calum Gourlay on bass; for the octet they added Graeme Stephen on guitar, Chris Greive on trombone, Sean Gibbs on trumpet and Adam Jackson on alto. All the music was inspired by the writer David Foster Wallace (about whom I know nothing!): the first half was older material, tunes prompted by passages and characters from Foster Wallace’s works; the second a large scale orchestrated suite, Dreaming Of Ourselves.

The suite was very impressive in its conception, scope and execution: ambitious and challenging, it demanded attention from both musicians and listeners. The arrangements brought to mind Charles Mingus’ larger scale works. At times the musicians seemed a little stiff, as if they were still settling into the piece. I came out wanting to hear it again, maybe when the musicians were slightly more familiar with the music.

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The next night was even more ambitious: two original suites orchestrated for twenty three musicians, written by bassist Mark Hendry, still a student at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, as were apparently many of the musicians in his Large Ensemble. This gig was one of my wild cards: I’d not seen Hendry before, but a friend suggested it sounded like my kind of thing. Had I known the scale of the works being premiered I might have dismissed it as hubris. But Hendry pulled off his vision superbly.

The orchestra comprised classical strings – violins, cellos and double bass – with jazz brass – trumpets, trombones and saxophones – and a rhythm section of Hendry’s bass, Fergus McCreadie on piano and Stephen Henderson on drums. (The orchestra weren’t introduced, so apart from Harry Weir on tenor, I’ve no idea who they were!) The arrangements brought to mind Gil Evans – curiously, since I can’t recall Evans using strings. There is always a danger that strings add syrup to an arrangement, making it sickly and sticky. Hendry’s use of strings avoided this completely, instead using therm to add texture and depth.

I thought the first piece, inspired by endangered species (with a section named after each of five animals) worked a bit better than the second, based around the novel 1984. But that’s quibbling: it was a highly successful evening: Hendry has accomplished something remarkable, and it speaks volumes for the quality of the young musicians coming out of the RCS and Scotland’s thriving, youthful jazz scene.

(I picked up a copy of Hendry’s recent CD Esperance. It too is excellent!)

Graham Costello’s STRATA. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2018.

I had no expectations of this gig, other than I’d seen two of the musicians several times before and wanted to see what else they were up to. And so it was that I heard some of the most exciting new music for a long time.

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Those two musicians were guitarist Joe Williamson and pianist Fergus McCreadie. Indeed, McCreadie must have thought I was stalking him – I saw him play three or four shows in the jazz festival, including his own trio gig. But the other three that make up the band were superlative too. Angus Tikka played excellent, sometimes funky electric bass (and I had been close to giving up on electric basses in a jazz setting!). Harry Weir played some blistering, intense tenor. And Graham Costello himself was superb on drums – energetic, powerful, exciting.

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They had me hooked on the first number (none of the tunes were introduced, and they played through, from one tune to the next, so I have no idea what any of them were called). Building slowly, McCreadie seemingly playing a single chord, Williamson stoked the tension. And they kept it going through two sets of high energy jazz rock. Not a retread of electric Miles or seventies fusion – this seemed very much of its time.

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I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm, either: chatting at other shows, people I didn’t know were telling me how good it was!

(They’ve just released a a video of a recent performance on Radio Scotland.)

Kurt Elling. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2018.

I don’t normally seek out vocalists, but having seen Kurt Elling a couple times with the SNJO, I wanted to see what he was like with his own band. And it was very good indeed. He has a deep, rich voice which he uses as an instrument, improvising scat and vocalese as much as singing lyrics. He started with Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain, taken slowly and acapella – with moments he had the Assembly Hall spellbound. A marvellous evening.

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Keyon Harrold. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2018.

I hadn’t heard Keyon Harrold’s music before this show. It had a quite a dark feel to it – the opening number was long and brooding. There was an undoubted – and understandable – political edge: Harrold is from Ferguson, Missouri, and one number, Lament for MB, was dedicated to Mike Brown, the young black man whose killing by police lead to riots a few years ago. He also expressed his thanks to the people of Edinburgh who had been marching against the US president’s visit to Scotland. The music had a distinct, infectious groove, a hint of hiphop beats and rock rhythms, as well as vocal samples operated by the drummer, Charlie Haynes.

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The Bad Plus. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2017.

The last gig of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival for me; and also the last opportunity to see the Bad Plus in their current incarnation. They’re a band I have seen many times: I first saw Ethan Iverson play in 2002, I think, in a small cellar-bar in Edinburgh; I went at the insistence of the promoter, and picked up a copy of the Bad Plus’ “Authorised Bootleg”. Their gig with Joshua Redman five years ago remains one of the most memorable gigs I’ve been to. But with such high expectations, they also have the capacity to diappoint, too.

So this gig held mixed feelings for me. And to start with I wasn’t in the mood: their natural quirkiness seem forced. Maybe an afternoon of high-powered bebop and the excitement of Binker & Moses the night before (not to mention several pints consumed after that gig…) had left me feeling a bit jaded. I took several numbers for me to warm to the Bad Plus.

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But warm I did. Something kicked in half way through and grabbed me. Maybe they started playing more familiar tunes (for me they are much more of a live band, and I haven’t heard their most recent recordings). Reid Anderson’s bass playing I think is superb. (A large part of me hopes that he does more solo work – his album “The Vastness of Space” is one of my favourites.) And Dave King’s drumming took me along for the ride. I ended up really enjoying it.

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Ethan Iverson has announced he’s leaving the band, and I will miss his presence. I can’t help wondering what they’ll become without him, and where it will take him, too.

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Binker & Moses. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2017.

Aside from one number on Jools’ Later, I hadn’t heard Binker & Moses, but I seemed to have heard a lot about them. Normally I avoid bands that seem to be hyped, having gone through several “jazz revivals” (and many jazz saviours!) since I started listen to the music. But I thought maybe I ought to see what the fuss is about, since they were playing in my home town.

Much to my surprise, the hype was right. Maybe even understated. Binker & Moses were superlative: powerful, exciting, gripping music. That only two guys could make all that sound was astonishing.

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Binker Golding plays tenor – and he plays it very well, muscular in a Coltrane vein, cascades of tumbling notes. But where Binker is exceptional, Moses Boyd is amazing. Playing a small drum kit, he was superlative when laying it out loud in full-on, polyrhythmic Elvin-mode, but his power really showed when he played quietly. He played so many notes, and then somehow seemed to fit a whole load more in between them, and then some more for good measure.

Watching them, I had two recurring thoughts: how come I had never seen these guys before? (It turns out I had – at least, I saw Binker play with the Nu Civilisation Orchestra five years ago.) And, of Moses, how is he doing that?! Together, they were breathtaking.

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With just two musicians playing such high octane music, it might have been easy for one to overwhelm the sound, but they seemed supremely balanced. Moses let on that he was jetlagged, though one wouldn’t have known: I can’t imagine them playing with more passion and energy.

This, I think, was my gig of the festival (of the twelve shows I saw), because it was unexpected, a salve to my jaded assumptions. I expected hype, and heard instead creativity, imagination and fervour.

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