Ryan Quigley brought his quintet to Edinburgh, during their tour to promote their new CD. The band featured Geoff Keezer on piano (sitting in for Steve Hamilton, who appears on the album) and Clarence Penn on drums, both on excellent form. It was a cracking gig, lively, original hard bop.
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.)
I saw one of the jazz greats, Lee Konitz, play in London last week. Konitz’ career spans seven decades – he was one of the players behind one of jazz’s most famous recordings, “Birth of the Cool” in 1957.
He played four shows over two nights at Pizza Express; the intimate atmosphere suited him. In a quartet with young pianist Dan Tepfer (Konitz and Tepfer have just released a CD of duos), bassist Mike Janisch and drummer Jeff Williams, Konitz stuck mainly to standards – he said – but he deconstructed and rearranged them so that they became new pieces.
Last Wednesday, his early show comprised of familiar tunes made new and viewed from a fresh perspective. There were tunes by Miles Davis (“Solar”, which Konitz said Davis appropriated from Chuck Wayne), versions of “Cherokee” and a fast “Lullaby of Birdland”, and a Monk tune; all sounded new and fresh – a hard trick for such well known repertoire. Konitz took an oblique take on each number, abstracting them in surprising and inventive ways.
The first show was so good that we took up the offer to stay for the second, which surprisingly still had seats available; apparently the others shows were all sold out. Sticking with standards – “Get Happy” and “Oleo” featured this time around – Konitz was once more oblique, making the tunes sound even more abstract. Pianist Tepfer really came into his own with some extended solos and a couple of excellent duets with Konitz. The second show was even better than the first, engaging and exciting by turns.
Back in January, I saw the Alyn Cosker quartet play in London. I meant to write about it at the time, but it got lost in a trip away; and also – well, it was good, but really not my kind of music. It is harder to write about things I don’t like so much (but maybe a useful trick).
I know Cosker from his work with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Tommy Smith; he can be a very loud brash drummer, but he can also be very gentle and delicate, too – a rare mix.
His own music is strictly jazz fusion – the bits fused being rock-funk. He plays in complex time signatures, with great energy – there wasn’t so much of the thoughtful, gentle Cosker here.
He featured Seamus Blake on saxophone – another forceful, muscular player. It sounded to me like he was playing what he would have played in any other setting – as if there wasn’t a natural fit to their music.
Mike Janisch was on bass – both electric and acoustic. I much preferred the sound of his acoustic playing – acoustic bass just seems so much more subtle.
All in all, the music was too samey and bombastic – a bit too much. I think Cosker is a great drummer, but I think on this evidence I prefer him as a sideman rather than leader.
A few weeks ago, I went to see the TransAtlantic Collective play the JazzBar. (I’d have written about it sooner, but I got waylaid by the London Jazz Festival; and a rather nasty cold, that laid me low for several days.)
Somehow, I had got it into my head that they were a trio; I was wrong: they are a quintet. Except that the trumpeter was called away, so the night I saw them, they played as a quartet, with saxophonist Patrick Cornelius as the sole lead instrument. (The following night in Glasgow, they were joined by trumpeter Ryan Quigley on trumpet and Konrad Wiszniewski on tenor for what sounds like a highly interactive gig split between two venues across the city!)
The JazzBar is a funny venue – I have been there many times, but I don’t really feel like I have a handle on it. It was pretty quiet to start with, lacking in atmosphere from the audience – it was a nasty evening outside – but later on it got busy – with lots of people who were there not to hear the music, but to drink. The hub-bub and bar-sounds threatened to drown out the band. The capacity for bar staff to clink glasses at the quietest moments is quite amazing. (Still, they are only doing their job, I know…) It is a small intimate venue, and I think I should like it more than I do – it is just that most of the audience seems to pay to get in just so they can talk over the music: and it pisses me off.
The band were excellent. They played a mixture of standards and tunes of their new album, Travelling Song – the title track is lovely – including a lovely piece of Freudian Ellingtontonia accidentally named “In A Semi Mental Mood”.
Each member of the band shone – Cornelius was excellent on alto sax, bassist Michael Janisch inventive and solid, and drummer Paul Wiltgen (who shared a lot of the writing duties, too – a talented guy) was both energetic and subtle. Pianist John Escreet took a bit longer to warm up, but be played some great solos in the second set.