Trio Red played an intimate gig in Edinburgh last month. With Calum Gourlay depping on bass for an absent Per Zanussi, they played many of the tracks from their new album Lucid Dreamers (which I reviewed for LondonJazz, and liked a lot) as well numbers from their first CD. The music is full of humour, and this comes out live. Tom Bancroft is full of stories and provided the context for the songs and their often surreal titles, and this feeds into their music. They expand the tunes more than they do on the CD, letting things go further. A really fun gig.
Nearly a month has passed since the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, so I thought I’d gather my thoughts about some of the gigs I went to.
The big ticket for the festival was Antonio Sanchez’ Migration. They’d had a crap day, their luggage was lost by the airline, and they seemed to be beset by technical problems. But their playing was beautiful. Sanchez drumming was superlative, just wonderful, and I really liked John Escreet’s piano playing. I don’t get Seamus Blake playing an ewi (and his frantic activity when his Mac decided to run out of power proved very distracting), but his tenor playing was great. But the music didn’t hang together for me: they seemed less than the sum of the parts. They played the Meridian suite straight through, and it was quite intense: the frequent rhythm and time changes made it hard work to listen to. It seemed like a prog rock suite to me, more intellectual than emotional.
I decided to see Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet and Enrico Zanisi Trio at the last minute. Indeed I was late, since I mistook the Spiegel Tent in George Sq for the Spiegel Tent in St Andrew Sq. Two Spiegel Tents! Who knew? Well, everyone else who got there on time, obviously. LondonJazz had tweeted an ecstatic review of a London gig by Akinmusire, and I reckoned that if international musicians were going to visit Edinburgh, they deserve an audience. Actually, it was a packed house, and I was lucky to get a seat. Enrico Zanisi Trio played a good though not exceptional set. (Zanisi is playing a couple of solo gigs in more intimate settings in Islay next month.) Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet were superb. I had no expectations, but was really impressed. Akinmusire has a very clean, crisp sound, and kept away from histrionic solos: it’s like he knows how good he is and doesn’t need to show off. His playing left lots of space, lots of powerful, long notes. Drummer Justin Brown was amazing.
Trio Red – in this incarnation, Tom Bancroft on drums and Tom Cawley on piano, with Furio di Castri on bass – were joined by writer David Grieg, who improvised stories as the band improvised music. The trio played a couple of numbers without Greig, and they were superb. Bassist di Castri played beautifully, a revelation since I’d not come across him before. (I was told that this was his Scottish debut.) Cawley and Bancroft work really well together, and the three of them made some excellent, incentive music. The intervention of Greig left me in two minds. I loved what he created – humorous, fascinating stories. But I found it distracted from the music: it was hard not to watch the screen on which his words appeared. Still, Trio Red were great, Greig’s words were fun and adventurous, di Castri was phenomenal, and full marks for experimenting.
Thelonious, a project started by Calum Gourlay to play every tune by Thelonious Monk, played a sell out show in the JazzBar. This was the fourth gig I’d seen Gourlay play in five weeks (with the SNJO, his duet gig in Glasgow, and a big band Ellington set earlier in EJF being the others), which probably qualifies me for stalker status. But he is very good (and I can’t recommend his solo CD highly enough). In Thelonious he is joined by Martin Speake on alto, David Dyson on drums and Hans Koller on… euphonium! Another piano-less Monk tribute. Given the instrumentation, I was surprised quite how straight the arrangements were. There was no messing around or weird interpretation, this was pure Monk. And it was very good indeed. They played a mixture of Monk’s standards such as Epistrophe, Criss Cross, Misterioso and Brilliant Corners, with less well known tunes. It was fascinating to hear a whole show of Monk’s sometimes jagged, angular tunes instead of just the occasional number dropped into a set. It emphasised how much of an influence he still is – the music sounded fresh, very now, and simultaneously wacky and normal. Gourlay said they’re recording a CD, and I look forward to it. I’m not sure you can have too much Monk.
There was plenty of piano with the Dave Milligan Trio. It is great to see Milligan gigging again, and I hope we get to seed more of him: he is a marvellous, gentle, understated pianist, and it feels like he’s a bit of a private secret. Well not too private, because this was another sell out show. With Tom Bancroft on drums and Brodie Jarvie on bass, they played new tunes, a couple from Milligan’s CDs and some standards, including a thoughtful dedication to the late John Taylor. Just a lovely gig.
Next up was Frech pianist Martial Solal in a solo gig. This was one of my wild cards, and I’m very glad I went. In the refined setting of the Wigmore Hall, Solal played a fascinating set of standards. He took a theme, dissected it, and then took off in all sorts of new directions, time and time again, in ways which reminded me of his compatriot Michel Petrucciani in his approach to the music, if not his playing style. This was quite dense music – Solal filled all the space – and it was not easy to identify what he was playing: in the interval, the people sitting behind me ran off a list of tunes they had heard, none of which I heard! What I heard over the two sets included Autumn Leaves, My Funny Valentine, Autumn Leaves, Caravan, Round Midnight, Well You Needn’t, In A Sentimental Mood, Satin Doll and All The Things You Are. Solal barely spoke to the audience, and at times it felt a bit like a classical recital – perhaps because of the venue. But there was also something very personal about Solal’s music: it was like he was sharing some secrets with us. He was brought back for several encores, joking before the third “…I like to play the piano!” This gig was a joy as Solal explored these tunes for all he was worth leading us down unexpected byways. Marvellous stuff.
After a (well deserved…) night off, two more pianists featured in a double bill. (I wrote this gig for LondonJazz in greater depth.) First came Curios, a British trio featuring pianist Tom Cawley. Curios’ music left lots of space; Geri Allen’s just the opposite, as she filled every moment with notes. She had name checked Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner, and the influences were clear. This was one of my “experimental” gigs – I’d seen Allen before, but never solo, and she was performing in collaboration with a filmmaker. It wasn’t wholly successful, but it was very interesting. The music felt very intense; the encore, based on music by Charlie Parker, was lighter and more playful.
Before the main gig, I caught a free duo set by Scots saxophonist, flautist and piper Fraser Fifield and guitarist Graeme Stephen. Whilst their roots were clearly in traditional Scottish music, they were also improvising. Fifield’s piping sounded like a heavily peated whisky – this was heady stuff. I liked it so much I bought the CD!