Tag Archives: Hans Koller

“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!

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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.