Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra – Hot Horns, George Square Spiegeltent ***
A performance by Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra at the Spiegeltent has become an annual event at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, and it is usually accompanied by this reviewer sitting on the edge of her seat as she thrills to the lesser-played Bix or Ellington tune being lovingly and energetically recreated by the gentlemen of the band.
On Saturday evening, however, the thrills were fewer and further between than usual – despite the participation of English trumpeter Enrico Tomasso as guest star. One of the ways in which the CJO normally gets the spines a-tingling is through the terrific unison playing of members of the top-notch front line, but for much of Saturday’s concert, the ensemble playing just didn’t have the usual pizazz and was actually a bit on the raggedy side. More loose like this than tight like that, as Louis Armstrong might have said.
Nevertheless, the CJO on a slightly off day is still preferable to most alternatives, and there were treats scattered here and there through the concert, among them Dick Lee’s impish clarinet breaks and Phil O’Malley’s eloquent ones on Wild Man Blues, Lee’s funky penny whistle solo on Savoy Blues and Konrad Wiszniewski’s dynamic tenor solo on Swedish Schnapps.
As for Tomasso, he demonstrated once again that when it comes to emulating the style and sound of Louis Armstrong, he is the leader of the pack. No-one Else But You was the first of a run of tunes which burst into life as soon as he came in on trumpet.
* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 27th
Jerry Forde New Phoenix Jazz Band, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 26th ***
The talented Martin Foster should take some considerable satisfaction in the fact that his place in the advertised line-up of the Jerry Forde New Phoenix Jazz Band last night was filled by not one but two saxophonists (baritone and alto). As one of the A-list front line of this reborn sextet, Foster would have been a draw, alongside trumpeter Colin Steele and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Dick Lee. But even with two deps in Foster’s place, the band still didn’t premiere The New Century Jazz Rag which had been flagged up in the festival programme.
Nevertheless, they did deliver on the theme of music from across the decades of jazz, and it was a treat to hear Colin Steele – not usually a player one hears in this kind of group – getting his chops around tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong. Indeed, Steele revealed an Armstrong influence in his playing which was by turn exuberant, majestic and playful and stood out especially on Symphonic Raps, That’s My Home and Oriental Man. On Thelonious Rag, he played with a Louis-like swagger.
The more loosely arranged numbers, notably Riverside Blues, were most appealing but the evening’s two stand-outs both featured a young singer, Christine Adams, who blew the audience away with her beguiling and quirky interpretations of the Billie Holiday song Endie and My Sweetie Went Away (last heard on these shores crooned by the much-missed Marty Grosz).
* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 27th
Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra with Evan Christopher, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Tuesday July 23rd ****
It can be a bit of a political minefield when a band which has a brace of ace soloists in its line-up is joined by a special guest: egos can be bruised as the star mops up most of the solo space assigned to his given instrument. But when New Orleans-based Evan Christopher made his debut as a guest with the Classic Jazz Orchestra on Tuesday evening, bandleader Ken Mathieson made a virtue of the fact that he now had three top clarinettists in his group.
Three clarinets playing featured together can be a thrilling sound – and, from the off, Martin Foster, Dick Lee and Christopher made a terrific trio; Foster’s lovely, grainy tone contrasting strikingly with Christopher’s sweet and hot sound on Charlie the Chulo. Dardanella featured several examples of the thrill of the clarinet trio: early on, they were seductive, playing in unison, before letting rip separately but simultaneously at the exhilarating finale. Sidney Bechet’s Moulin a Café also climaxed with a showstopping three-way dialogue between Foster, Lee and Christopher.
Other highlights included trombonist Phil O’Malley’s spare and elegant contribution to Mood Indigo and tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski’s slinky solo on Barney Bigard’s Lament for Javanette.
Indeed, Mathieson quipped that Barney Bigard’s estate would be having a bumper night, royalties-wise, but it was Jelly Roll Morton’s which received the bigger boost since the CJO performed a string of Morton numbers, including a couple which had never been played before – anywhere. None of these proved as electrifying, however, as an impromptu Blue Horizon in which Christopher, soloing with rhythm section, wowed the audience with a masterful display of his sultry, southern-drenched sound.
* First published in The Herald, Thursday July 25
To read my review of this concert, click here
FAPY LAFERTIN & SWING 2010, THE HUB
Many guitarists try to play like the legendary Django Reinhardt, but the great Fapy Lafertin, who shares a Belgian gypsy background with his hero, is probably the only one who sounds exactly like him – and sounds like him in a completely natural and unforced way.
For Sunday afternoon’s performance, Lafertin – whose one-time swashbuckling look has been replaced with a more avuncular appearance – was reunited with the Edinburgh band which – as its leader, John Russell, explained – was formed 30 years ago as a direct result of Lafertin’s sensational performance at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
Which accounts for the laid-back rapport between Russell and Lafertin. The band’s usual solo guitarist, Stephen Coutts, had to make way for the guest star – which made for a slightly solo-heavy opener, Djangology, as both were featured. But thereafter, everything worked as if they had been playing together for years. The dependably excellent clarinettist Dick Lee seemed particularly inspired by the presence of Lafertin, and their unison playing at the start of many of the faster numbers was terrific. By the time they got to the thrillingly fast encore, China Boy, the energetic Lee was practically bouncing off the walls.
However, it was the ballads which brought the house down. “Oh, wow!” exclaimed one woman, unaware that she was thinking out loud, as Lafertin brought the dreamy ballad Manoir de mes reves, to a spectacular climax. She was only echoing the thoughts of most of the audience, though, which was blown away by Lafertin’s uncanny musical resemblance, in every way (from the notes he chose to the manner in which he played) them) to one of the giants of jazz.