Tag Archives: Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra

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 Festival 2013: Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert

Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wednesday July 24th *****
 The Queen’s Hall was a born-again church on Wednesday night as the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, conducted by Clark Tracey, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Choir staged an ambitious, 90-minute performance of Duke Ellington’s sacred music – music from three major concerts which took place in cathedrals (in San Francisco, New York and at Westminster) in the last decade of the great composer, bandleader and pianist’s life.
 
Rather than being a compilation of pieces of music from the three concerts; Wednesday’s Sacred Concert was very much an entity in its own right: this was Stan Tracey’s distillation of the sacred music (itself a blend of jazz, spirituals, classical music and blues) in to one, 90-minute performance which, inkeeping with the spirit of the original events, featured classical singers and a tap dancer.
 
It may have sounded like a strange mish-mish on paper, but it worked; in fact, it more than worked – it was a bit of a sensation, thoroughly engaging throughout and at various points utterly electrifying and extremely moving (though some of the lyrics spoken, Rex Harrison-style by the impressive baritone Jerome Knox sounded as if they had been penned by the Pythons for The Life of Brian).
 
Of course it’s always a thrill to hear the wondrous Ellington sound being channelled through a top-notch band (and that was certainly the case here), but experiencing those uniquely Ellingtonian harmonies being sung by a first-rate choir – a cappella on the exquisite Will You Be There? and Father Forgive – took it to a different level.
 
Only one aspect of the concert was weak: soprano Teuta Koko was mesmerising when in operatic mode but her voice lacked presence and depth for the swinging and/or spiritual songs.
 
*First published in The Herald, Friday July 26th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra Plays Woody Herman

Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra Plays Woody Herman – The Four Brothers, Queen’s Hall, Thursday July 28th  ****  

American clarinettist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski’s five-day stint in Edinburgh came to a spectacular and exhilarating conclusion on Thursday when he assumed directorship of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra for a programme of music from the Woody Herman bandbook.

In the hands of some musicians, staging a programme of music from a famous big band could be akin to giving a live history lesson, but the quick-witted and charismatic Peplowski injected so much fun into the proceedings, and directed the band with such enthusiasm, that the whole concert was hugely entertaining. The schtick, between numbers, was Peplowski the stand-up at his best.

He neatly put one heckler in his place by commenting that the “first big band this guy heard was Beethoven’s”, and introduced drummer Stu Ritchie as “the winner of the 2011 EJF Robert Shaw look-alike award,” adding “we’re particularly proud of him because he won in both the ‘drunk’ and ‘sober’ catgegories”.

Peplowski was clearly energised by the reception he received both from the audience and the musicians with whom he had obviously enjoyed working through the week. This was a tight, polished band and the ensemble playing was terrific – Hallelujah Time and Bijou being stand-outs.

There was a tendency in many of the horn solos to blast and squeal, but some non-blasters and squealers stood out, among them Colin Steele, who contributed an eloquent muted solo to Opus de Funk, and Jay Craig whose baritone stole the show on Four Brothers. Pianist Dave Milligan was also in great form. Peplowski, disappointingly, wasn’t featured much, but he did turn in a magnificent extended solo clarinet version of Body and Soul.

(First published in The Herald, Monday August 1st)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Les Doigts de l’Homme

LES DOIGTS DE L’HOMME, THE HUB
***
With their witty pun of a name, Les Doigts de l’Homme are, evidently, a playful bunch out to entertain as much as impress. On Wednesday night, they were greeted like long lost copains by a crowd which had undoubtedly heard them last year and been won over by their Gallic charm. “We’re back by popular demand,” explained the leader. “That’s what I read in the programme. So are you the popular demanders?”
For the first-time listener, this four-piece band (three guitars and bass) seemed to be more about style than substance as it wheeched through super-fast versions of Blue Skies and Ol’ Man River, as if to prove how quickly les doigts of these particular men could operate – and possibly to compress the very late-starting first half so that it didn’t overrun.
Over at the Queen’s Hall, there was no point in organisers hoping that the gig wouldn’t overrun. With a star-studded band, in the form of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra, playing a programme of Count Basie music, there were lots of musicians to be featured and, in the second half, the ego of singer Dennis Rowland to be accommodated. And boy did he like the sound of his own speaking voice.
His slow-drawled announcements suggested that he thought this was his show, and his limelight-hogging body language – even during instrumentalists’ solos – was beyond annoying. Joe Temperley, who was conducting the band, was almost frozen out. It’s testimony to the musicians’ self-restraint that none of them biffed him when he stuck his face into theirs as they soloed. Luckily, his singing helped make up for the irritation – and, despite him, the band swung beautifully.

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