Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Havana Swing

Havana Swing, Teatro Spiegeltent, Friday July 27th ***

Well, there can’t be many better ways to launch oneself into the final weekend of the jazz festival than by listening – and in certain sections of the packed Spiegeltent audience – dancing to the Dundonian band, Havana Swing.

Inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and his fellow gypsy jazzers, Havana Swing may not have any gypsy blood flowing through the veins of its band members (one of whom was absent last night) but it certainly conjures up the spirit of Django and co. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. As bass player Calum McKenzie quipped about one of the two lead guitarists: “Ashley’s from Perth. In order to learn that authentic style, he stayed with the gypsies in Dundee. For three years. Made a man of him.”

This was easygoing, easy-to-enjoy jazz served with a healthy dose of humour and, latterly, a dollop of panache. The first half of the concert was fun but unremarkable; a series of jaunty numbers – including the catchy Hotel du Palais (“written in the Hotel du Palais, Aberfeldy”) which suggested that Havana Swing’s main forte is as an ensemble – no single player stood out as the star of the show.

In the second half, however, Walter Smith’s gorgeous, golden-toned clarinet came to the fore, beautifully offset on such lovely ballads as Nuages and Harlem Nocturne by the collective, gently swinging sound of John Whyte and Ashley Malcom’s lead guitars and McKenzie’s bass.

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 28th

 

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