Swing 2013, Royal Overseas League, Edinburgh, Friday July 26th ***
Along with the Queen’s Hall, the Royal Overseas League, at 100 Princes Street, must be one of the only venues that has been a fixture of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival since it began in the 1970s. Ascending the stairs and navigating the maze of narrow corridors to find the always-crowded room – which, in recent years has been the festival home to some of the longest-serving local bands – always triggers flashbacks to the 1980s when the likes of Art Hodes, Milt Hinton and Dick Hyman were the draws.
The place has had a bit of a makeover recently (though one has the impression that the decorators might have had to work around the jazz festival audience since both it – and the volunteer who mans the ticket desk – seem to be part of the fixtures and fittings, never changing) – and so, by coincidence, has the band which was on the stand on Friday afternoon. Earlier this year, Swing 2013 lost its star soloist, the uber-talented Dick Lee – a virtuoso of the clarinet and various saxes. Its line-up may now be subject to change but on Friday it scored something of a winning goal by having as its guest the effervescent swing violinist Seonaid Aitken, whose ability to keep smiling gamely despite being verbally patted on the head at regular intervals by bandleader John Russell had to be admired.
With her bouncy, uplifting style of playing, Aitken evoked the spirit of Stephane Grappelli and enabled the band to dig deep into the Hot Club repertoire which he and gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt made famous. She won the packed house over from the off, but it was her dazzlingly accomplished solo on Bossa Dorado and her un-flashy, swoonsomely romantic contribution to Troublant Bolero which stood out.
* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 29th