Tag Archives: Paul Harrison

Edinburgh Jazz Festival. July 2016.

I wrote briefly about my favourite Edinburgh Jazz Festival gigs for LondonJazz. Here are some of my photos from various EJF gigs I went to.

Magnus Ostrom Band.

DSCF7008 bw DSCF6988 bw

DSCF7001 bw

DSCF7035 bw

Paul Harrison Sugarwork.

DSCF7160 bw

DSCF7118 bw DSCF7154

DSCF7152 bw

DSCF7127 bw

Graeme Stephen Quartet.

DSCF7184 bw

DSCF7183 bw

DSCF7189 bw

Laura MacDonald Quartet.

DSCF7076 bw

DSCF7082 bw

DSCF7088 bw DSCF7101 bw

DSCF7072 bw

Colin Steele Quintet.

DSCF7206 bw DSCF7212 bw

DSCF7218 bw DSCF7220 bw

Advertisements

SNJO & Eddi Reader: “Alba: Songs of Scotland”. Ullapool, June 2015.

The first time I went to Ullapool, sometime around midsummer in 1988, I was fortunate enough to catch a concert by Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Ullapool village hall (though I’d say it is more of a town than a village, even thirty years ago). I wasn’t very well informed about classical music back then, but it was a remarkable concert. I have no recollection what was played, but the way the audience reacted the music, and the way the musicians reacted to the audience, was memorable. The hall was packed, the audience and the orchestra pushed close together. I was in the front row, and I was close enough to turn one violinist’s music. The atmosphere was amazing, the locals excited that one of Scotland’s major ensembles was playing for them, the orchestra excited to be playing for such a grateful audience in the long summer evening amongst the tall mountains (though less pleased by the midges). The partying went on long into the night.

So when I saw that SNJO were going to be playing one of their gigs on their tour of the Highlands and Islands, performing with Eddi Reader singing “Alba: Songs of Scotland” when I was (relatively) nearby, it seemed obvious to extend my stay by a day to catch the gig. If those sings work anywhere, it would be here.

Things have changed a bit. Instead of the village hall (which itself seems to have undergone at least one modernisation in the interim), SNJO were performing in a well equipped theatre, part of a school complex.

Like my previous musical experience in Ullapool (though I have visited the town many times since, just not for any concerts!), it was full, people grateful of the opportunity to hear a big band on their doorstep. The guy behind me hadn’t been to a jazz gig before; others clearly knew their stuff. (I think SNJO regularly play in Inverness, a ninety minute drive away.)

Whilst not as intimate as the SCO decades before, and a bit more formal, this was a very enjoyable gig. Reader released an album of Robert Burns’ songs several years ago, and the repertoire in this gig was heavy on the Burns – but they’re good songs, and deeply engrained in Scottish culture. If you’d asked me if we really needed another arrangement of Auld Lang Syne, I’d probably have said “of course not!” Hearing Pino Jodice’s arrangement, it would be a resounding “YES!”

Good songs coupled with SNJO’s knack for working with great arrangers continues to pay off. Florian Ross contributed several of the tunes – Ye Jacobites was particularly moving, and Charlie Is My Darling was rousing. Martin Kershaw’s fun adaptation of Brose and Butter, sung lasciviously by Reader, had the as ever excellent Alyn Cosker stomping away on drums.

Amongst the non-Burns titles were two arranged by Paul Harrison, the gentle opening number of Tommy Smiths’ setting of Edwin Morgan’s poem “Glen of Tranquility”, and a traditional piece that Reader remembered from childhood, which she called Glasgow Barrowlands. As well as a great singer – she has a powerful voice, a fair match for the thirteen piece band – she is a good storyteller, and her introduction to this number aptly described Glasgow’s (in)famous dancehall. Her description of growing up in Ayrshire – “there was sectarianism, some people had a picture of the pope on the wall, some people a picture of the queen. My parents had a picture of the king: we were Presleyarians!” – explained where she was coming from.

Burns was from Ayrshire, too, and Reader’s empathy with the material was evident. Her pleasure at singing with the orchestra was also clear, as she high-fived band members and danced behind soloists. It all worked really well, the musicians seeming to have as good a time as the audience. Which was very good indeed.

And then it was out into the bright evening light of the longest day in the far, far north. I’m sure they were partying long into the deepening twilight, late into the night.

Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Scottish Bands. July 2012.

Colin Steele’s own quintet played a cracking gig on their own account. With Milligan on piano, Michael Buckley on tenor, Stu Ritchie on drums and Callum Gourlay on bass, Steele played his familiar, celtic post-bop with verve and panache. He is an exciting player – lots of high notes – with space for the contemplative, too. My one quibble is that the music was a bit too familiar – some new tunes would have livened up the mix even more.

DSCN4917 bw DSCN4931 bw

Supporting Steele was the Konrad Wiszniewski Quartet, with Euan Stevenson on piano and the powerhouse drumming of Alyn Cosker driving the quartet from behind. Wiszniewski has a full, powerful saxophone sound, with a very slight tendency towards saxophone-histrionics (as many tenor players have!). Stevenson played Tyner’s role, supporting Wiszniewski with lots of block chords and rhythmic solos. Wiszniewski played tenor and a curved soprano, the saxophone looking almost toylike in his large hands.

DSCN4900 bw DSCN4896 bw

Altoist Martin Kershaw opened the festival with his quartet of Paul Harrison (excellent on piano), Doug Hough on drums and Euan Burton on bass. Kershaw’s music is intelligent and thoughtful, his tunes often inspired by works of literature or art. Much of this show came from his latest album The Howness, with numbers based on his reaction to Mervyn Peake and Philip Larkin, as well as tunes from earlier projects like his reworking of Charlie Parker pieces.

DSCN4826 bw DSCN4830 bw

Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, September 2010.

Islay is a special place. It is an island – so you have to really want to be there: it takes some planning and effort to actually make the trip. It is famous for its whisky – it now has eight distilleries, producing a wide range of spirits – and its bird life. And for one weekend each year, it is home to a jazz festival.

Which makes it a very special event indeed.

The island is large, but has a small population – 3,000 or so; and it has no ordinary venues – no jazz clubs or concert halls. Instead, concerts are housed in unconventional surroundings – previous years have seen gigs in the Round Church and the bottling room of a distillery (one of my favourite all time venues!); this year they went to several distilleries and the island’s bird sanctuary.

The festival starts on a Friday evening; but it really starts on the Friday lunchtime ferry across. The boat was packed with punters, musicians, and the festival’s organisers, waiting anxiously to make sure the musicians actually make it. There was a audible sigh of relief when, with moments to spare, the last musician on the list turned up. (Though one musician was stranded on the island for the return trip, having gone to the wrong port!)

Others fly to Islay, though they miss the grandeur of the trip, leaving the hills of the mainland, passing islands before the ferry sneaks through Caol Ila (the strait, not the whisky) between Islay and Jura. It is a wonderful way to travel.

The way it works – more or less – is that a couple of more famous musicians are booked – people from the London scene, Europe or the States – and then a load of Scottish musicians come across (usually from Glasgow or Edinburgh). The ferry is a bit of a jazz Ark, because essentially there are two of each instrument. The programme basically mixes everyone up: lots of scratch gigs, and by the end of the weekend one has seen most of the musicians several times. Musicians and punters hare around the island from venue to venue.

The first gig was a duo between (Scottish) pianist Paul Harrison and the visiting US alto player Jesse Davis at the Lagavulin distillery. Lagavulin were sponsoring the festival this year, which meant they handed out ample drams at each gig – this is a very good thing! (Though I’d have been as happy if it had been Bowmore, or Bruidladdich, or Bunnahabhain, or… well, they’re all good whiskies!) Davis and Harrison opened with “I Want To Be Happy”, which seemed like a pretty good philosophy for a jazz festival. Davis, who’s been to Islay before and seems to like it there, is an altoist in the bebop-Bird mold, bringing a soulful, bluesy feel to the slower numbers; Harrison can play in a lot of different styles (from funk to free), and his accompaniment was suitably bluesy, too. A great start to the festival!

The other “guest” was pianist Zoe Rahman, up from London. All her gigs were in the Bowmore gaelic centre, which housed a grand piano for the weekend. It seemed a bit like she sat there as a stream of some of Scotland’s best jazz musicians flowed through. First up later on Friday evening were bassist Mario Caribe, drummer Stu Brown, tenor player John Burgess and trumpeter Colin Steele. Caribe is a bit of an Islay fixture, the only musician to have been at every jazz festival – this was the twelfth. This quintet had only met an hour or so before the gig but they quickly built a rapport. Caribe and Brown became Rahman’s rhythm section for the weekend. Brown took a bit of warming up, but he got better with each gig. Caribe was excellent throughout, combining subtlety with energy – a great passionate player. Rahman was great throughout the festival, too. Burgess brought his muscular toned saxophone, whilst Steele added the pyrotechnics. They played several of Caribe’s numbers, including a couple from his Islay suite, written for the 10th anniversary of the festival. An interesting combination.

DSC_4598 bw DSC_4600 bw

DSC_4639 bw DSC_4611

Saturday lunchtime saw John Burgess leading a quartet at Lagavulin, with Harrison on piano, Caribe on bass (looking very cool in his dark glasses – the lights were pointing straight at him!) and Doug Hough on drums. Burgess played both tenor and clarinet. A set of standards with a couple of Burgess’s tunes thrown in, this was a fun, slightly light set. Harrison played some great solos, Caribe really swung, and Burgess tried the set the gig on fire – in a shirt to match.

DSC_4717 bw DSC_4714 bw

I skipped the afternoon gig, choosing to walk in the rain instead (not a great decision…) before getting to Bowmore for a trio gig with Rahman, Caribe and Brown. Playing a bunch of standards as well as Caribe’s and Brown’s tunes, this was a lovely gig. Caribe shone once more, and he and Raman worked really well together – there was real musical chemistry going on. A couple of the tunes came from a suite written by Brown for Islay last year (I wasn’t there…), about the birdlife – a drunken swan, a lonely egret. It was all lovely stuff.

DSC_4728 bw DSC_4749 bw

The late night show on Islay is a thing of legend. I’d not been before, but I decided to stay in Bruichladdich so I could sample Colin Steele’s Melting Pot. The gig started later than its usually late start because so many people were trying to cram into the village hall. It was packed until there were no more chair, and packed a bit more. It was wonderful to hear Steele and co in such a different vibe: this time they were playing the most soulful of soul jazz. Subie Coleman sang, and she’s got a really bluesy voice, way down low. Andy Sharkey’s bass was simultaneously solid and funky – his sense of soul-time was immaculate. Steele and Phil Bancroft were a fiery frontline. I left at the interval, missing out on the party as the space cleared by those heading to their beds was apparently filled by dancers.

DSC_4818 cut DSC_4820 bw DSC_4795 bw

Sharkey was back on bass fort Davis’ quartet lunchtime outing at Ardbeg, another enjoyable set of standards.

DSC_4843 bw DSC_4863 bw DSC_4851 bw

DSC_4870

But it was the following gig, Caribe, Rahman, Steele and Bancroft back at Bowmore which was the highlight of the weekend. Caribe opened with an exquisite, slow solo piece bearing a melancholy beauty; I’d love to hear him play an entirely solo set. Then he was joined the other musicians in a variety of combinations – bass and piano, then trumpet added, then sax. Rahman played a couple of solo numbers, and then the quartet finished their session together. This was marvellous music making.

DSC_4912 DSC_4913 DSC_4914

DSC_4938

There were two more gigs, a lively trio set by altoist Martin Kershaw with Andy Sharkey and Doug Hough, and a great tribute to Cannonball Adderley with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, featuring Steele, Kershaw, Caribe, Harrison and Hough. They make the musicians work hard at Islay…

DSC_5012 bw DSC_5008 bw DSC_4974 bw

DSC_5004 bw DSC_4977 bw

Phil Bancroft Quartet. Edinburgh Jazz Festival, July 2008.

My first gig of this year’s jazz festival was the Phil Bancroft Quartet at the Hub – indeed, all but one of the gigs I went to was at the Hub (in contrast to last year, where all but one was at the Spiegel Tent). It was a hot Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t feel like sitting in a darkened hall listening to jazz; but this quartet quickly blew the cobwebs away.

They played a varied set – Bancroft explained how he liked different styles of music to do different things emotionally – and the tunes spanned a dynamic range, drummer Stu Ritchie somehow achieving the wonderful feat of being energetic and driving whilst playing with care, precision and – best of all – quietly: Ritchie was excellent.

DSC_0010 bw DSC_0002 bw

But then this band has pedigree, with the wonderful Aidan O’Donnell on bass and Paul Harrison on piano. It was a fun gig – the music seemed to express Bancroft’s quirky humour – and the playing was excellent throughout.

DSC_0018 bw

Bancroft said that someone had told him he looked like the recently discovered Radovan Karadzic, and we shouldn’t be surprised if UN forces burst in to drag him off to the Hague; but the person behind me said he looked rather more like Hagrid.

Niki King. Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 2006.

Niki King was appearing in a tent outside Fettes College, where they held a weekend of jazz. I don’t normally like jazz singers, but I make an exception of King: she is great. She should be a household name – like the hobbit Cullum or any of the “jazz singers” who have been selling albums by the bucket-load over the past year or three. But then, if she were, we wouldn’t be able to see her in small gigs like this. The first time we saw her – a few years ago – she was bottom of the bill in a show which also included Tina May and Stacey Kent – singers who really are jazz singers – and she was by far the best singer all evening.

She played two sets at Fettes. The first was more jazzy, in duet with the pianist Paul Harrison: mostly jazz standards and ballads, this was a soulful set. She has a good jazz voice, and she brings the tunes to life, breathing feeling into phrases that are usually worn and familiar.

She had a good foil in Harrison, who brought a great deal of sensitivity to the songs: his playing matched her voice well, and he shone without upstaging her.

The second set added bass, drums and backing vocals to the mix, for a more pop-soul collection of songs, largely King’s own compositions. Harrison added an electric keyboard to the piano, allowing for the more funky nature of the songs. The bass and drums provided a solid backing, and backing singer Madelaine provided some vocal depth.

King had a great rapport with the audience: she knows how to work the crowd. There was a real party – even festival – atmosphere, quite rare for stormy Sunday evening in Edinburgh.