Tag Archives: Kenny Ellis

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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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.

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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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Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival. September 2012.

In September I made my bi-annual trip to the Islay Jazz Festival. The boat across was full of jazz pilgrims, many of whom recognised each other from previous years (many of whom I seem to be on a nodding relationship), and musicians (and many of whom I seem to be on a nodding relationship, too – it is always strange to be greeted by musicians). It was a rough crossing – the first trip over I remember the boat rocking (and I’ve been to Islay five or six times). The skipper’s docking was poor – I could have parked the boat better!

The highlight – well, highlights, since there were two of them – were the sets by the Neil Cowley Trio. Cowley plays big venues, usually – I last saw the trio play at the QEH in London in March which holds 900. On Islay, they were playing to 80 or so at each venue.

First up was an hour’s set at Lagavulin (the festival’s sponsors – without whom I guess acts of the stature of Neil Cowley Trio wouldn’t get as far as the Hebrides), the opening gig of the festival. I was sitting in the front row, just a couple of feet away from Cowley’s high energy piano playing.

They crammed a lot into their hour, playing with great dynamics and covering much of their repertoire. Cowley is a very physical, percussive pianist, lifting himself off the piano stool with the force of his playing. Bassist Rex Horan and drummer Evan Jenkins are well matched to Cowley, whether they’re rocking out a groove or adding sensitive texture.

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Their second gig the following evening was different: much longer, there was less urgency but an equal intensity. It was a more relaxed, less frenetic gig. But equally enthralling. I was again in the front row – strange that there are so often spaces left in the front of gigs! Cowley was more chatty than before – very affable and entertaining – but it is the music that really speaks: powerful and compelling.

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The first Cowley gig was followed by the Fredrik Kronkvist Quartet, loud modern saxophone. It had everything I like – fast saxophones, good bass, great drums – but after the intensity of the Neil Cowley Trio, I didn’t have ears for the quartet. It wasn’t their fault – but I felt as if I had spent all my energy for the night.

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Kronkvist’s rhythm section made up a piano trio the following lunchtime. One of the things about Islay that makes it so interesting is way they make use of imaginative venues: in this case, the RSPB visitor centre. Though not a distillery, Lagavulin was handed around, making sure we were warmed up after a morning exploring the Loch Gruinard RSPB reserve.

The music was exactly what was needed for a lunchtime gig: pretty mellow, a bunch of standards and a couple of originals. And it was really fun – emphasising once more that it wasn’t the band at fault the night before.

The lunchtime gig on Sunday was lead by pianist Brian Kellock playing (mostly) tunes by Ellington and Strayhorn. The first set was a trio with Kenny Ellis on bass and the ever-excellent Stu Ritchie on drums. Kellock spanned styles with panache, playing a great set. The second set added Colin Steele on trumpet and Laura MacDonald on alto – Steele’s fiery trumpet sparking of MacDonald’s more tempered, cool sax. Another fine lunchtime gig!

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For a small island, journeys on Islay can take a while. The afternoon session was at Sanaigmore: literally the end of the road. And in keeping with the adventurous choice of venues, this was an art gallery turned jazz club for the day. This was a performance by a one-off band, a trio of Mario Caribe on bass, Michael Buckley on tenor and Snorre Kirk on drums. An interesting line-up, ostensibly lead by Caribe (who is the only musician to have played at every Islay festival), and they played some interesting tunes: “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, for instance, and “Smile”, which Buckley took pleasure in telling us had been written by Charlie Chaplin. This was a fun gig, the musicians trying things out in relaxed surroundings.

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The final gig featured Steele again – another tradition, apparently. His quintet were only excellent form, despite it being the first outing for pianist Euan Stevenson (Steele stalwart Dave Milligan had to cancel at the last moment). Steele has an affinity for Islay – he composed a suite performed there a few years ago (it appears on his album “Stramash”), some of which was played in this gig. With Buckley on sax, Ritchie on drums and bassist Calum Gourlay, Steele played a typically exuberant set to close the festival – this was barnstorming stuff, and a great way to close the festival!

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