Nairn Jazz: Bob Wilber (1995)

Review published in The Herald, June 1, 1995.

Bob Wilber, Parkdean Holiday Park, Nairn

Nairn did it again on Tuesday night: showed up the rest of the country in its commitment to one-off inter-festival jazz concerts. The name to be added to the town’s already impressive list of successes is that of British-based American clarinetist/saxophonist Bob Wilber.

Wilber is a paradoxical figure. His precise, professional appearance, while reflected in the polished nature of his arrangements, is really a foil for the passion and energy of his playing style. The academic (visual) image is underlined by one of his instrumental choices – his celebrated curved soprano sax which, at about half the length of the straight soprano sax, looks like an extra-large pipe.

The curved model was used to best effect on Wilber’s breathtaking marathon through Hindustan, but the straight soprano was favoured with more numbers. As promised, it made an altogether different sound from its wee brother: bolder, more commanding, and more elegantly fluid. That sound was showcased on two ballads – the stunning Indian Summer and Wilber’s own exquisite Reverie.

Although Wilber’s clarinet was the most exercised instrument of the evening, it was the least inspiring – but only because of the competition. Its lilting performance on What a Difference A Day Makes, however was a contender in the knock-out stakes.

Impressive, too, was the rest of the band, with Dave Cliff’s guitar input in particular, perfectly complementing Wilber’s playing. The quartet appears to be jinxed. Before the gig, it was announced that Wilber’s regular pianist, Mick Pyne, died last week – Brian Dee proved a worthy substitute – and midway through the evening the band’s superb bass player, Dave Green, had to be ambulanced off to hospital, but the band played on.

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