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.
I was expecting a trio, but Partikel are now a quartet, the sax-bass-drums line up augmented by violin. Since I’d not seen them before, though I’d heard a couple of numbers, that didn’t make a huge difference because I didn’t really know what to expect. What we got was an evening of impressive, sometimes intense music that was clearly jazz but a lot more, too.
Aided by a suite of electronics at their feet, Duncan Eagle managed to make his saxophones sounds like an organ, and Benet McLean got his violin to sing like a choir. Max Luthert was doing something with a Mac, too, but mostly his bass sounded just like a bass should do.
In fact, the only member who didn’t appear to be electronically enhanced was Eric Ford at the drums, but frankly he didn’t need it: he’s an exciting player as it is, so speedily dexterous that at times I wondered “how’s he doing that?” without being overbearing or brash. (I meant to ask him after the show, but forgot. I think the answer might be multiple pedals.)
With or without the electronics – which never got in the way and were used sparingly – the quartet made a full, rich sound, with lots of texture and light. There seemed to be a distinct dose of prog in the mix (though this might reflect me rather than the band), and violin added both folk and classical influences.
Most of the music was new – they were going into the studio the following week to record their fourth album – though since I didn’t know their work, it didn’t really matter. It was complex without being complicated, covered a range of moods and feelings, and was at times energetic and exciting.
There is something about the vibes that just makes me smile. The ringing sound, maybe. The pure physicality. The way vibes players all seem to dance around their instrument, as if it too was a character in the band.
Joe Locke had all this. I smiled a lot. Sitting right at the front, he dominated the band – I could barely see pianist Robert Rodriguez, and bass player Ricky Rodriguez (apparently no relation) was hidden behind Locke for most of the evening. Locke danced around, moving up and down the vibes. He raised his mallets high and produced some fast trills up and down the vibe’s bars. At other times he was more subtle, leaving each note to ring out.
Hearing a track played on Jazz Line Up of their new release, Take One, took me down to the JazzBar to listen to the trio Big Screen. And a very enjoyable gig it was, too.
After a series of lots of modern, improvising gigs – enjoyable and exciting as they were – it was rather refreshing to hear two sets of straight forward standards. Most of the tunes were familiar, being taken from hit movies across the decades, and the musicians were sincere: there was no cynical irony here.
This meant that even something like Vangelis’ Theme for Chariots of Fire was played straight, as the springboard for some excellent solos. (They played it a lot better than Mr Bean and Sir Simon Rattle, too!) Neither the repertoire nor the musicianship could be faulted: David Newton on piano, Empirical’s Tom Farmer on bass and Matt Skelton on drums were all great.
Amongst several other tunes, we got to hear On The Street Where You Live and I’m Getting Married In The Morning from My Fair Lady, Surrey With The Fringe On Top (Oklahoma), and It Might As Well Be Spring (which I didn’t know was from a film: State Fair, apparently).
So, a very enjoyable gig, with great tunes, wonderful solos – excellent fun.
* * *
The following evening was another in “Playtime’s” ongoing series of silent movie soundtracks by Graeme Stephen, with the regular quartet of Stephen on guitar, Mario Caribe on bass, Tom Bancroft on drums and Martin Kershaw on saxes.
The film was Murnau’s Faust. I thought I knew the story of Faust quite well, but the movie had me completely foxed, not least because the heavy gothic subtitles were illegible. (This may have been in part due to the projector, since they were much better on the second half, but by then I was too lost to catch up.)
Unlike the previous films I’ve seen Playtime improvise to, Nosferatu and The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari, in which the music and film reinforced each other, my inability to get into the film meant that the film detracted from the music. I really enjoyed the music, but I could have done without the distraction.
It might be that I was feeling jaded after the previous evening of movie music, but the contrast in musical styles between Big Screen and the Playtime quartet kept me interested in the music; it was the on screen action that left me behind.
* * *
Two weeks later and the next Playtime had the same quartet taking tv theme tunes as their topic. This basically meant tunes from the tv programmes of our apparently shared youth. They kept away from those shows which could have been thought of having a jazz score, like the Sweeney, instead choosing themes that allowed them to explore more adventurous places.
Without the distraction of the screen, the quartet were at their occasionally wacky best. Their arrangements, by each of the band though Bancroft supplied the most, brought a surreal and humorous ear to play: Bancroft’s mashing together of the Magic Roundabout and Roobarb and Custard was magical, anarchic and rampant, and his take on Kojak crossed with the Rockford Files crossed with Cagney and Lacey sounded like an imaginary Coltrane soundtrack.
Graeme Stephen strung together the occasional music from several episodes of Star Trek with its main theme, proving him to be both geeky and a highly competent arranger (though that was never in doubt). I think it was Stephen who contributed a klezmer-esque version of some of the music from the Angry Birds game, too.
We also heard the classic Match of the Day theme which made me think of Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto and a ska version of Ski Sunday. That’ll be Ska Sunday, then! Their version of Tony Hatch’s Sportsnight theme recast it as 70s modern jazz.
They closed with Ronnie Hazlehurst’s theme for Are You Being Served, and making it sound like classic Blue Note funky soul jazz. At least, that’s what I heard…
Through it all, they were inventive and entertaining, taking what might be such standard fare to the edge of anarchy. A really enjoyable in which the overly familiar was by turns exciting, comforting and funny.
I went to two gigs on consecutive evenings last week, something I try to avoid – but the second was arranged long ago, and when I learned about the first I didn’t want to miss it. They were sufficiently different not to clash.
The first was eyeshutight at the JazzBar. A piano trio, they played with passion and intensity; the first number – or maybe several pieces concatenated – lasted over half an hour. The pieces – or perhaps sections – twist around their themes, as the musicians shift rhythms and tempo. The trio have that second sense built up over lots of gigs, I imagine, happy to follow each other wherever they may go. A very engrossing, enjoyable gig. (I picked up their latest CD at the gig, “Resonance”, which I reviewed for LondonJazz. It’s well worth a listen.)
The JazzBar managed something quite spectacular that evening: both a very sparse crowd and people determined to talk over the music! To be fair, it was only one table of six who chatted through the first half, and they decided the music wasn’t for them; but that left only six of us in the audience. We were very appreciative, though! I hope eyeshutight give Edinburgh another go – we’ll have to see if we can get more people out next time!
* * *
The following evening I headed down to Peebles, where a friend of mine had grabbed me a ticket to see Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duet. I realised that I first saw Tommy play as a teenager – thirty years ago, before he left Scotland to study at Berklee. I have seen him, many, many times since – including with Brian Kellock. They’ve just released a second CD of their duets, “Whispering of the Stars”, a companion piece to their earlier outing “Bezique”.
Playing a set consisting solely of standards – most going back to the 1920s and 30s (only a Chick Corea piece and Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose” came from the second half of the twentieth century). “The Surrey With The Fringe on Top”, ” I Want To Be Happy”, “Stardust” and many others filled the two sets.
Whilst the tunes may have been dated, the music was timeless. It seems like Kellock and Smith are playing better than ever. Kellock impresses me more each time I see him, and the duo setting with Smith gives him freedom to really explore the tunes; his left hand keeping the rhythm going and allowing Smith to stretch out. That just two people can create such good music from what might be considered hackneyed sources is impressive.
To start with, this was a really enjoyable gig in an intimate venue where, for once, the band weren’t drowned out by chattering drinkers. Perhaps all the students had exams the next day.
Playing music from his new CD – though only a download was available at the gig! – Wiszniewski (or “Konrad… Konrad” as Courtney Pine called him at a recent SNJO gig) lead this new band through some muscular playing as if they’d been playing together for ages. Apparently the opposite was true – I was told drummer Alyn Cosker saw the music for the first time only hours before the gig.
Whilst it was clearly Wiszniewski’s band, it was the contributions by Cosker and Wiszniewski’s regular pianist Euan Stevenson that really stood out. The two of them seemed to know exactly how to support each other, and Wiszniewski. This isn’t to diminish the input of bassist Mario Caribe, whom I’ve seen regularly recently in the “Playtime“sessions – this quartet felt very well balanced, Caribe bringing a deft, light touch and wonderful dose of swing.
Together, they blew up a storm. Technically adept, Wiszniewski didn’t use technique for technique’s sake: he could match any saxophonist for speed, but never seemed to play notes just to fill the space. Playing more soprano than I’d expected, his tunes and solos on both tenor and soprano were lyrical and entertaining.
In the intimate, and unusually quiet, surroundings of the JazzBar, this was an evening of exciting, recuperating music. The quartet seemed completely settled despite being new to the music, and I hope Wiszniewski can keep them together as a regular outfit – I’d love to see them play again!
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.
The last of the handful of gigs I went to recently was the Neil Cowley Trio, another in the cellar that is the Jazz Bar.
I saw the trio play eighteen months ago in London, supporting another band, and I’d been impressed, so when I saw they were playing in Edinburgh as part of the Triptych Festival – spread over the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen (I am never sure if they intend one to venture all over the place, racing from Aberdeen to Glasgow and back to Edinburgh, or just attend events in one’s home city) – I made sure to catch them.
A jazz power trio – their latest CD is called “Loud Louder Stop”, apparently after something an unfavourable reviewer wrote about their first album – Cowley’s music is somewhat riff-heavy, and occasionally formulaic; but it is also engaging and exciting, and they make a really good sound together.
Evan Jenkins on drums is steady, pushing the band forward – more rock than jazz (not many dotted triplets there!) – and freeing up bass player Richard Sadler to play more melody.
This was a really enjoyable gig; Cowley comes across as a really nice guy – he has a good line in London-patter – and the band held the audience enthralled.
Another gig in Edinburgh: this time Colin Steele and Brian Kellock with the house band at the Jazz Bar.
I had noticed trumpeter Steele concentrating hard on Enrico Rava’s playing earlier in the week. In the subterranean dive of the Jazz Bar, he took the limelight – it was his evening.
They played standards, rather than Steele’s own music, but his playing was scintillating. Reaching for the high notes – and hitting them – his trumpet sounded ringing and striking.
Keith Edwards on tenor produced a rich tone which balanced Steele’s more strident sound – Edwards played some great solos, and the two of them bounced lines around in true chasing style.
Kellock played less of a role than I had expected, and Bill Kyle, who plays drums as well running the Jazz Bar, could have been more forceful and driving – it felt like he was hanging back behind Edwards and Steele.
My one gripe was the audience: they got louder and louder and louder, until I could hear more of the audience than I could of the music – and I was sitting at the front! Why go to a jazz gig to talk? It the depths of the cellar, the chatter was distracting. It was good for the bar – a lot of people means they must have sold a lot of beer! – but a shame for the music.