Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Ellington 1945

Echoes of Ellington/Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra: Ellington 1945 ****

The Echoes of Ellington and Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestras joined forces on Sunday night to celebrate a pivotal period in the history of the Duke and his band.

Drawing from a vast pool of compositions that date to the years on either side of 1945, Echoes’ leader/clarinettist Peter Long and a top-drawer band (decked out, it has to be reported, in two-tone dinner jackets that looked like they were either escapees from a 1970s gameshow or rejects from a Brotherhood of Man tribute band) played such a long concert that even the most devoted ducal devotee was at saturation level a couple of numbers before the end.

Still, until Ellington fatigue set in, everyone – onstage and off – had a great time. Among the many highlights were the big, familiar ballads sung by Georgina Jackson – I’m Beginning to See the Light and I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart, both of which were a first-time treat to hear being performed by full orchestra plus vocals. He Makes Me Believe He’s Mine – a completely unfamiliar (to everyone in the audience, judging by the blank expressions when Long asked who knew it) song with words and music by Billy Strayhorn – was another sumptuous stand-out.

But the biggest thrills were when this band – which included such terrific players as Enrico Tomasso and Ryan Quigley (trumpets), Calum Gourlay (bass), Nick Dawson (piano), Ian Bateman and Gordon Campbell (trombones) and Colin Skinner and Jay Craig (saxes) – let rip on such uptempo numbers as Stomp, Look and Listen, It Don’t Mean a Thing and, especially, the Duke’s extended Take the A Train.

* First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 21st

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: Warren Vaché Trio/Scott Hamilton Trio

Warren Vaché Trio/Scott Hamilton Trio, Tron Kirk *****photo 4-2

It’s been too long since either cornettist Warren Vaché or tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton – once fixtures of the jazz festival – played in Edinburgh, so their back-to-back sets at the Tron on Sunday afternoon were eagerly anticipated by those of us whose love of swinging, tuneful, unpretentious jazz owes much to these two American stars.

A relaxed Vaché kicked off proceedings with a gorgeous set which was warm, intimate and full of good humour – until the coffee machine and the venue’s WD40-deficient kitchen door joined in. (Any steam that might have come out of the Vaché ears was channelled into a fiery, rafters-raising It’s Alright With Me.) Why the staff didn’t leave the door open and keep coffee off the menu for the duration of his acoustic set is a mystery and it clearly irritated both musicians and listeners alike, and threatened to upset the mood of the afternoon.

Despite the distractions, Vaché was on great form. On such exquisite ballads as How Long Has This Been Going On?, his gentle, tender cornet was cushioned by the terrific duo of Danish guitarist Jacob Fischer – a dazzlingly attentive, responsive and inventive player who masterfully wove Vaché’s melodic lines into his accompaniment or embroidered around them – and eloquent American bassist John Webber.

Scott Hamilton took over the same trio for his hour-long set which – despite his warming up on Vache’s closing number, How About You? – took a little while to get going, and climaxed with a couple of beautiful bossa ballads. (He even, in a historic Edinburgh first, played some piano!) Early on, he explained that he was confining himself to the tempo at which his fingers could work on a borrowed sax. “I flew up with Ryanair,” he said. “Need I say more?!”

* First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 21st

Warren Vaché Trio

* Tangerine

* My Shining Hour

* How Long Has This Been Going On?

* blues

* Misty

* It’s Alright With Me

* God Bless the Child

* How About You? (+ Scott Hamilton)

Scott Hamilton Trio

* I Hear a Rhapsody

* Swingin’ Till the Girls Come Home

*All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm

* The Girl From Ipanema

* Sunday

* The Shadow of Your Smile

 

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: Bratislava Hot Serenaders

Bratislava Hot Serenaders, Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square ****

The Spiegeltent in St Andrew Square proved to be a portal for time travel on Saturday evening – and the chosen destination was, appropriately enough, the 1920s. The first stop, and the one which immediately established that the Bratislava Hot Serenaders have serious credentials as purveyors of hot, swinging and authentic classic jazz – in addition to their eye for authentic period attire and conventions, and a sense of humour and style – was Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Stomp, a thrilling opener and one you don’t often get the chance to hear, especially being played by a top-notch 19-strong band that counts three violins and a tuba amongst its instrumentation.

Indeed, Ellington’s Cotton Club repertoire – the sensational music he wrote and performed with his band during its tenure at the most famous Harlem night club of them all – provided several highlights of Saturday’s concert, notably the joyous Washington Wobble and the band’s encore, the exhilarating Old Man Blues.

The musical jaunt through the 1920s/1930s didn’t confine itself to New York, however. This band, which has been going strong since 1992, hails from Slovakia and it included some delightful period songs from its own country’s dance band repertoire, in particular I Feel So Sad Without You, a beautiful tango which featured vocals by one of the resident boy crooners, plus the Serenaders Sisters, a trio of singing flappers whose synchronised swooning and close-faced, close-harmony style brought the Belleville Triplets to mind.

London – and Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra – was the other stop on the 1920s time travelling tour; the beautifully and wittily delivered The Broken Record proving to be another stand-out by this deservedly popular band.

* First published in The Herald, Monday July 20th

I

* Cotton Club Stomp

* Crazy Bout My Baby

* Blue Moon

* Nobody Loves No Baby Like My Baby Loves Me

* Mood Indigo

* Birmingham Bertha

* Tea for Two

* Washington Wobble

* I Feel So Sad Without You

* The Broken Record

* Hot Lips

* Body and Soul

* Loose Angles

* ?

* I Love You (Slovakian song)

* It Looks Like Rain

* Choo-Choo

* Old Man Blues

 

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: BBC Big Band Centenary Concert

The BBC Big Band Sinatra Centenary Concert, Festival Theatre *****

That’s us halfway into a year of Sinatra centenary concerts and it seems unlikely that, to quote the great man himself, the best is yet to come. Why? Because Friday night’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival one was a stonker: all the big hits (well, almost all the biggest hits – there was a bit of My Way lobbying going on in the foyer post-gig), sung by a diverse trio of top vocalists, and accompanied by the sensational BBC Big Band playing mostly the much-loved arrangements familiar from the records. Hell, there was even a singalong opportunity.

Everybody involved in this Sinatra-celebrating enterprise seemed to be having a terrific time getting a chance to sing their hero’s praises and plunder his vast, five-decade repertoire. Edinburgh’s Todd Gordon opened the proceedings with a classy, swinging set which underlined that while he may have absorbed many of Sinatra’s mannerisms, he has his own, distinctive, voice. Mind you, on New York, New York he also had the voices of the capacity audience to contend with – and then the challenge of regaining a monopoly on the singing duties afterwards.

Jacqui Dankworth bridged the gap between Todd Gordon’s set and the second half with a selection that included a raunchy Teach Me Tonight. But it was Curtis Stigers who really got the audience’s juices going partly thanks to the fact that he had all the plum songs. He sprang onstage to Come Fly With Me and dished up one sensational Sinatra hit after another. If Gordon embodied the classy side of Sinatra; Stigers provided the swagger – and the one-liners. “I prefer to introduce this next one in your native tongue,” he said as he announced “Dinnae Worry ‘Boot Me”…..

* First published in The Herald, Monday July 20th

I

All Or Nothing At All

Todd Gordon

* Where Or When

* Big Bad Leroy Brown

* Chicago (Is My Kind of Town)

* It Was a Very Good Year

* The Tender Trap

* New York, New York

* Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – Let’s Do It

Jacqui Dankworth

* Come Rain Or Come Shine

* Corcovado

* For Once In My Life

* In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

* Teach Me Tonight

with Todd Gordon – They Can’t Take That Away From Me

II

* In the Still of the Night

* The Song Is You

Curtis Stigers

* Come Fly With Me

* I’ve Got You Under My Skin

* Don’t Worry About Me

* You Make Me Feel So Young

* Fly Me to the Moon

* I Get A Kick Out of You

* The Summer Wind

* One For My Baby

Curtis Stigers, Todd Gordon & Jacqui Dankworth – The Lady is a Tramp

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: Richard Pite Hot Five

Richard Pite Hot Five, Tron Kirk, Friday July 17th ****

It’s a shame more people weren’t at the mid-afternoon gig by the Richard Pite Hot Five yesterday. Maybe the falling-off in punters was due to the unfamiliar name of the bandleader (or the Bertie Wooster bow tie he sports in the brochure’s profile pic) – or maybe it was down to the jazz festival’s blurb which mentioned “classic” jazz, but failed to mention who the rest of the band members were. Whatever the reason, this quintet deserved better.

Indeed, it would have been good to know in advance that the front line comprised trumpeter Ryan Quigley and clarinettist Peter Long (not that he bothered to say who he was until an audience member, exasperated by his repeated roll calls which culminated in “me – on clarinet”, asked “who are you?!”).

Quigley’s performance was worth the ticket price alone. On tune after tune, his solos –the epitome of musical swagger and imaginative style – were like electric shocks which jolted the music with their energy. Long must have been thinking along similar lines because no sooner had Quigley had his Frankenstein effect on Honeysuckle Rose than Long announced the next tune as an audience participation exercise, wherein participants had to shout out the title on cue during the number.

It was Puttin’ On the Ritz, clearly inspired by Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein version – and it turned out to be the highlight of the festival thus far. Not because of the audience participation (more voltage required to bring that crowd to life) but because of the sensational playing by all concerned.

* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 18th

* ?

* Mood Indigo

* Honeysuckle Rose

* Puttin’ On the Ritz

* Tea For Two

* Sweet Georgia Brown

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015: Davina and the Vagabonds

Davina and the Vagabonds, Tron Kirk, Friday July 17th ***

This was supposed to be a write-up of first two gigs of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, which kicked off yesterday lunchtime, but the wonderful, long-serving, local band the Diplomats of Jazz escaped review because a couple of numbers into their set, cornettist/vocalist and leader Jim Petrie took ill and the concert was, understandably, abandoned while an ambulance was called.

And so the gig which launched this reviewer’s festival turned out to be the first of this year’s quartet of performances by Davina and the Vagabonds, an American band which – judging by the impressive turn-out yesterday lunchtime – clearly made some friends during the 2014 event.

Davina, who sings and leads the quintet from the piano, is an ebullient, wisecracking and appealing personality with a striking 1940s look – she’s Julie Kavner crossed with Dita Von Teese. She did her best to engage with the punters despite getting a crick in her neck trying to do said engaging over one shoulder, as her piano was facing into an audience-less corner. Vocally, and in her choice of (mostly R&B) material, she recalled Amy Winehouse – at times the resemblance was quite uncanny.

Unfortunately, much of the original, repetitive and brass-heavy, material her band performed didn’t allow her to shine and when they turned their hands to Fats Waller’s repertoire – in particular Louisiana Fairytale – it was almost like a pastiche. Easily the stand-out was Etta James’s I Would Rather Go Blind which was a vocal tour-de-force; absolutely electrifying.

* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 18th

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Naomi Shelton & Her Ministry of Soul

Naomi Shelton 1In the peerless jazz documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day calm descends on the closing moments of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival when the original gospel queen Mahalia Jackson takes the stage. But when her modern-day successor Naomi Shelton performs on the opening night of the 2015 Edinburgh Jazz Festival, the St Andrews Square Spiegeltent crowd will undoubtedly be looking for more of a party spirit from the show being headlined by the gravelly-voiced Daptone Records star.

Shelton, who is 72 years old, only has two albums to her credit – since she only landed her recording contract six years ago, when she was already a senior citizen. She may have been a late starter on the recording front but her name was already near-legendary on the soul circuit, and she had been singing professionally for decades.

Born and raised on a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Midway, Alabama, the young Shelton began singing in her local, wood-frame, Baptist church at the age of six. “All the family sang,” she recalls. “I grew up with four brothers and two sisters and we all sang in church. It played a big part in my life and kept us very busy as children.”

Shelton may have grown up in the segregated south, during the period in which the Civil Rights movement blossomed, but racism wasn’t a subject that was much discussed in the family home. “My dad was an architect and he was amongst all kinds of people – he travelled all over. But in my home we didn’t talk about racism; we only talked about the goodness of the Lord and how people should love one another and treat one another. We knew it was there but we didn’t dwell on it. You’re very aware of it, you’re aware of a whole lot of stuff but it don’t mean you have to carry it in your heart.”

But wasn’t it prevalent in the local community – or was it not too bad because it was a small town? “It wasn’t too bad where we lived – everybody in that neighbourhood was family, relatives and everybody got along with each other. It was a small community – it would have been a sad thing to not get along when you ain’t got enough people to have a fight with!”

As “the Davis Sisters of Midway,” Shelton sang the gospel repertoire in public throughout her adolescence with her older siblings Hattie Mae and Annie Ruth. They performed in churches across the region, at Baptist conferences and in a regular radio slot. “My dad helped build the studio on Tuskegee Highway and we would broadcast every Sunday morning at 6 o’clock and then we would come back home and have our breakfast and get ready for church.”

Aged 17, Shelton left high school and followed one of her sisters to New York where she immediately began hitting the nightclubs in search of gigs, but she had to abandon the search on that occasion. “My mom got sick so I went back to Alabama for a while till she got better, then I went to Miami, Florida as my sister had gone there, having decided that she didn’t like New York! That’s where my daughter Joanne was born, when I was 17. I was there for a good year or two but I left there because there wasn’t enough money to be made there in my book – you had to have two or three jobs to make a decent living – so I came back. And New York is where I’ve been since 1960.”

In 1963, Shelton – who counts Sam Cooke and Otis Redding as her favourite singers (“I identify with the male singers because I was never one of those sweet singers”) – became the house singer at the celebrated Night Cap club in Brooklyn, a nightly residency that put her on the soul music map. By the time she stood in front of the microphone each evening she would often already have done two cleaning or housekeeping jobs that same day. It must have been a hard life?

“Well, I was very, very blessed: my parents raised my daughter for me in Alabama so I was a free agent to go and do what I had to do, and I wanted to work. I was fortunate and blessed that my mom and dad raised my daughter and that meant that I was free to work and send money home to take care of her. My two brothers were still at home then – so everybody in the family pitched in and helped out.

“It was hard to be separated but you do what you have to do. You get the job done, you have to take care of your obligations. I don’t complain about my life – I’ve had some ups and downs, but all those humps and bumps help to keep you on the straight path.”

Even during the hard times, she felt it would all come right. “Why? Because I always held on to my dreams. Like I said in the song, A Change is Gonna Come, I knew that one day change would come. I knew that my God He ain’t forgot about me, He’s going to push me somewhere too.”

But what was her dream? To make a record? To be famous? “No. My dream was just to sing and get out there and touch people – that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about being famous or how much money I could make. It’s about showing love and being able to reach out. It’s all about love, whether you sing gospel, R&B, but I call my music soul music because if it’s soul music you can touch any soul out there – from all walks of life, and that’s it. It’s rooted in gospel music. But if you can touch people’s souls then you say Lord I thank you. That’s what my ministry is all about. Everybody needs to know that He will give you strength and help you pursue the positive side of life.”

How did she feel when it finally happened – and she finally got to make her first album, What Have You Done, My Brother?, in 2009?  “It was great but you know the best thing was that I was still around to watch the dream come true. A lot of people don’t see the dream come true. So I was grateful to God that He allowed me to still be around.”

“I never got frustrated that it didn’t happen sooner. I’m not that much into myself, I didn’t do this by myself; it was God that allowed me to do this. I don’t want to get caught up in this ‘I’m famous, I’m a star, I’m a big-time diva’. No, that’s not me. That’s not my cup of tea at all. If it was meant for it to happen years ago it would have happened but at that time God wasn’t ready for me because I had a lot of baggage that I had to clean up, so He helped me get rid of all the baggage – all the negative stuff I had been carrying for years. We have to let go of the baggage so we can move to the next level of life. So He said: ‘You’ve got some cleaning up to do then I’ll be able to place you some place’ – and that’s what He did. And you know that’s why I’m ever so grateful each day of my life. ‘One day at a time’, that’s my theory – for everything in life.”

So, what should the Edinburgh audience expect from her show? “Just tell them to expect let’s have a good time, a hallelujah good time!”

* Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens are performing at the Spiegeltent at St Andrews Square on Friday at 7.30pm. Visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com for tickets and information.

* First published in Scotland on Sunday on July 12

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