The Dave O’Higgins Quartet came to the Jazz Bar in November, playing full on hard-bop from their new album It’s Always 9.30 In Zog. It was a very enjoyable show, even though I was feeling somewhat jaded after five days at the London Jazz Festival.
There seems to be a blossoming of young jazz talent in Scotland. Over the past few years, more and more young musicians have been performing in clubs, concert halls, and festivals – graduates and students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and alumni of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (Smith is also professor of the jazz programme at the RCS).
Square One are such a band: bass player David Bowden is the 2017 BBC Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year; Peter Johnstone won the same award in 2012, and plays the piano in Tommy Smith’s excellent, current quartet; drummer Stephen Henderson has received rewards and accolades: and Joe Williamson has played with SNJO (TSYJO’s big brother). They all seem to have firest class degrees from the jazz programme at the RSC.
Toegether, they’re a exuberant, lively self-assured quartet playing exciting, engaging music: very enjoyable and a sign that there is another generation coming up fast. Self assured
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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.
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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!
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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.