40th Anniversary Jazz Gala, Assembly Hall ****
The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival swung into action on Friday, with a special concert as its showpiece event. It’s 40 years since an embryonic version of the festival first took place and, on Friday, it revisited its old gala format with a sort of jazz variety show bringing together Scottish jazz stars who have notched up appearances in every full decade of its life.
Pianist Brian Kellock’s relationship with the jazz festival dates back to even before his official debut there, in the 1980s. On Friday, reunited with drummer John Rae, his trio was in high spirits – though it was the languid Ballad For Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters that stood out.
Tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, who also cut his jazz teeth in the festival’s first decade, joined Kellock for a trio of tunes – notably a gorgeous Without a Song and a Sweet Georgia Brown that sent sparks flying – which highlighted their rapport and showed how attuned to each other’s musical thought processes they are.
It was disappointing that Martin Taylor, one of the leading jazz guitarists in the world, got a little lost in the mix kicking off a second half which was to be dominated, time-wise, by a gypsy jazz group which only came on the scene a few years ago. Taylor’s meander through Henry Mancini’s bittersweet ballad Two For the Road was a mini-masterclass in the art of solo guitar.
It would have been even more of a treat to hear him play with singer Carol Kidd (pictured above, with pianist Paul Harrison) but she had done her bit, bringing the house down at the end of the first half with two stunning ballads – by Billy Joel and Richard Rodgers – which served as appetite-whetters for her concert next Saturday.
Nobody got more of the spotlight, however, than singer/violinist Seonaid Aitken, who was in her element hosting the show on the jazz festival’s behalf, duetting with its stars and leading her band, Rose Room, through the longest set of the night.
- An edited version of this review appeared on HeraldScotland on Monday, July 16th