Tag Archives: Alison Burns

Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella

Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella, Festival Theatre ***

After Alison Burns’s homage to Ella Fitzgerald at the Glasgow Jazz Festival, it was Seonaid Aitken, recently named Best Vocalist at the Scottish Jazz Awards but originally known on the jazz scene as a dazzlingly talented violinist, who had the honour of marking the legendary singer’s centenary for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. 
 
While Burns’s concert was a duo affair, in an intimate venue, Aitken’s, which featured the impressive Groove Merchant Big Band and The Scottish Festival Orchestra Strings, was the Saturday night slot at the Festival Theatre, an occasion which one might – given the jazz festival’s long history of all-star extravaganzas – have expected to boast a number of better-known names, each perhaps focusing on a different aspect of Fitzgerald’s back catalogue.
 
So, no pressure on Aitken then .. However, she pulled it out of the bag in terms of entertaining the audience with her warm personality and covering all areas of Fitzgerald’s career singlehandedly; even managing to justify a violin feature because there’s a violin solo on It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from Fitzgerald’s Ellington Songbook album. 
 
That song, however, summed up the issue that any jazz aficionado might have had with this tribute. Its singer didn’t swing. Aitken has a beautiful voice, and she swings like mad when playing her violin – but when she’s singing lyrics, she is terribly sedate and sings the songs very straight. The stand-out of the evening was her recreation of Fitzgerald’s iconic scat solo on How High the Moon – where she did a superb job of letting rip and going with the swinging flow of the fantastic big band behind her.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th
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Review: Martin Taylor & Alison Burns – Ella at 100

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

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Review: Martin Taylor & Alison Burns

Martin Taylor & Alison Burns, Oran Mor, Glasgow, June 15 2012 ****

Katharine Hepburn famously said of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that he gave her class and she gave him sex appeal – and something similar applies to the duo of guitarist Martin Taylor and singer Alison Burns. They each bring something quite different to the partnership and that contrast is what makes it work. While the virtuoso guitarist adds colour and finesse to the double act, his singing daughter-in-law brings a warmth to the proceedings and makes Taylor’s technically dazzling playing more accessible. (Indeed, his numerous solo numbers almost seemed to belong to a different gig.)

That was certainly very evident at their Oran Mor concert last night, part of the West End Festival. When the pair were onstage together, they dished up some lovely duets. Burns, who has gained in confidence and presence since the last time I heard her (three years ago), has a velvety voice, tinged with Julie London-esque breathiness but considerably more assured.

Like London she doesn’t mess with the melody, and instead keeps it simple, paying attention to the lyrics and meaning – though only a few of the songs last night had any real emotional depth; moving readings of Stevie Wonder’s If It’s Magic and Sasha Distel’s The Good Life being notable exceptions. Her sugary Sophisticated Lady just served as a nostalgic reminder of Annie Ross’s gutsy, heart-wrenching take on the similarly themed Lush Life on the same stage four months ago …

* First published in The Scotsman, June 16 2012. 

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