Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo *****
Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella, Festival Theatre ***
Swing’it Dixieband Play Disney, Rose Theatre ***
Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****
Jesper Thilo, Jacob Fischer & Anders Fjelsted, Bartof Station, Copenhagen *****
I spent a couple of nights at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival last weekend, attending a couple of evening gigs and catching bits and pieces of the jazz events scattered throughout the city during my one full day there.
I watched punters of all ages learn to jive in one of the main squares, heard some trad jazz on the Nyhavn canal (Down By the Riverside sounded particularly apt), and ran screaming (well, I might as well have done – nobody would have been able to tell if I was screaming or if I was a singer!) from two free venues where squeaky bonk of both the instrumental and vocal variety were the order of the day.
This festival may be stuffed to the gunnels with concerts, but it’s not exactly well-endowed with the sort of jazz I love best – easygoing, swinging instrumental jazz. So I was thrilled to find that there was some taking place on my free night – and I knew it was going to be good because Jacob Fischer, whom I’ve heard many times in the UK, was on guitar, playing with Jesper Thilo, the seventysomething Danish tenor saxophonist I mostly knew about through his association with my favourite American sax player, Scott Hamilton.
Thilo and Fischer’s Saturday night gig by far exceeded my expectations and, frankly, restored my faith – and my smile – after a day of failing to find anything to pique my passion; most of what I had heard was music that made me think that if it had been what I was first exposed to as a teenager, I would never have gone on to become an aficionado…
Playing in the extremely hospitable Bartof Station, a lovely bar/cafe with a big comfortable music room and a quirky, retro decorative style, Thilo and Fischer, along with bass player Anders Fjelsted, dished up a three-set programme of standards and not-so standards – all served with warmth and good-natured humour. (Not that I understood a word of what was said beyond the song titles!)
Right from the off, this little band was cooking. On the hard-swinging opener, The Way You Look Tonight, Fischer was all smiles as the man he had introduced as “the king of the tenor sax” powered through the tune, revealing a style that is driving and forthright and at the opposite end of the sax spectrum from the exponents of a more wishy-washy, wistful and sentimental sound.
Switching to clarinet midway through the groovy Watch Your Step, Thilo seemed to up his game further, providing an exciting climax to that number with a hot style of playing which completely belied his stately demeanour. The clarinet thrills returned in the second set, with a sensational, fiercely swinging After You’ve Gone which came across as a dialogue – a rather frenetic and exhilarating dialogue – between Thilo and Fischer, with whom he clearly has a terrific rapport.
That rapport was evident throughout but was particularly obvious in All The Things You Are which Fischer kicked off in slow, contemplative (and cryptic) style before the lyrical bass of Anders Fjelsted and the driving sax of Thilo joined in. Fischer and Thilo’s mischievous little game of musical tag, as they split from playing in unison and began to snake around each other in counterpoint, was another in a long list of crowd-thrilling highlights of the evening.
A fair share of those were provided by Fischer in his finger-busting solos – always elegantly and imaginatively constructed. And the icing on the cake was the addition of Scottish pianist Brian Kellock, fresh from another gig across town, for a couple of numbers in the final, Gershwin-themed, set.
The Way You Look Tonight
Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me)
Gone With the Wind
Watch Your Step
All The Things You Are
After You’ve Gone
Stars Fell on Alabama
Sweets For the Sweet
The Man I Love
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Lady Be Good
Love Is Here To Stay
encore: I Got Rhythm
Martin Taylor & Alison Burns – Ella at 100, Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow ****
Maybe it’s fitting that a star who was as unassuming in real life as Ella Fitzgerald should have a low-key centenary year – in Scotland at least. The legendary jazz singer’s birthday celebrations can be contrasted with those organised for that other great 20th Century voice, Frank Sinatra, when he hit the C spot in 2015.
While Sinatra’s centenary in Scotland was a series of big band bashes fronted by such leading singing stars as Kurt Elling, Curtis Stigers and Frank Sinatra Jr, the biggest name on any of the Fitzgerald-themed Scottish concerts is a guitarist ….
But what a guitarist. Martin Taylor, who opened the Glasgow Jazz Festival on Wednesday with his and singer Alison Burns’s tribute, brought the house down in a way that Fitzgerald herself would have done, and in the duo format which Fitzgerald used to memorable effect with guitarist Joe Pass.
His two extended (non Fitzgerald-related) solo segments were, unsurprisingly given his status as an internationally renowned soloist, the stand-outs of the concert: tour-de-force balladeering on Hymne a l’amour (which, he joked, he used to think was a Glaswegian song because his aunty would invariably sing it after a few sherries), a beautiful and characteristically richly textured interpretation of Henry Mancini’s Two For the Road, and a gorgeous bossa version of The Carpenters’ I Won’t Last a Day Without You.
With a warm, lush voice which suited the intimate feel of the venue, Alison Burns impressed in the Ella role, bravely attempting to reproduce some of Fitzgerald’s less energetic improvisations and singing in a style which featured most of Fitzgerald’s trademark “licks”.
A slightly shorter version of this review was published in The Scotsman on Saturday, June 24th