Tag Archives: Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Birth of the Cool

Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo *****

Wow. Sunday evening’s concert at the smaller Spiegeltent could well turn out to be one of the top highlights of this year’s jazz festival for those of us “lucky” enough to be shoehorned into one of the wooden pews by the brigade of battleaxes running the George Square venues.
 
Celebrating the groundbreaking Birth of the Cool series of recordings, the concert reflected not only the iconic tracks laid down by the Miles Davis-led nonet from 1949 (that were eventually released as the seminal, 1957, BOTC album), but also rehearsals and broadcast material recorded by the same line-up during its brief lifespan.
 
If all this sounded like we were in for a potentially po-faced, academic project – and it certainly seemed that way when the headmasterly-looking musical director Richard Ingham was making his opening comments – then those concerns were quickly blasted away by the inadvertent comedy that ensued when a cue was missed for a re-enactment of the band’s first live broadcast. 
 
Instead, we were treated to a blissful hour of the lush, slightly ethereal harmonies featured in the distinctive arrangements and compositions of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan et al – and it was a rare thrill to hear such classics as Jeru, Moon Dreams, Move and Godchild being played live and with such panache and obvious enjoyment by this superb nine-piece outfit which included several students.
 
The 2017 BOTC band had at its heart an A-list team of Colin Steele (trumpet), Martin Kershaw (alto sax) and Allon Beauvoisin (baritone sax), all of whom were improvising rather than recreating their terrific solos and all of whom were on top form; Steele, in the Miles Davis role, has seldom sounded better. The Cool is born again … 
* First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 18th
Birth of the Cool, George Square Piccolo, Sunday July 16th
* Boplicity
* Venus de Milo
* Jeru
* Move
* Moon Dreams
* Rocker
* Rouge
* Israel
* Godchild
* Deception
* Budo

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Swing’it Dixieband Play Disney

Swing’it Dixieband Play Disney, Rose Theatre ***

Saturday lunchtime’s concert at the Rose Theatre, a brand new venue which used to be a chapel, was certainly a popular choice with audiences. Not only did it offer shelter from the rain and wind, but it also provided some child-friendly jazz in the shape of the young Norwegian/English band Swing’it Dixieband which was offering a programme of music from Disney films and other animated movies.
 
This exuberant seven-piece group, which bounded on stage dressed in the trad jazz uniform of black and white plus straw boaters, also proved popular with young ladies – and this was possibly the first time that an out-of-town hen party has included an Edinburgh jazz festival gig in its itinerary. 
 
Led by a charismatic if slightly cocky Norwegian singer and trumpeter, who sounded like Joe Stilgoe when he sang and had an impressive, swinging trumpet style, the band’s charm, enthusiasm, humour and energy carried them through the hour-long gig and endeared them to the crowd to the extent that they probably brought their own audience to the Mardi Gras in the Grassmarket, which was their next port of call. Especially impressive was the clarinettist whose slightly squawky tone brought the great Pee Wee Russell’s (and the less great Woody Allen’s) to mind.
 
They may not have delivered particularly great jazz versions of Disney tunes but it was a treat nevertheless to hear the likes of Everybody Wants to Be a Cat (from The Aristrocats), Whistle Stop (from Robin Hood) and Cruella De Vil (from 101 Dalmations) being performed live – and the youngsters present went particularly nuts for the calypso sounds of Under the Sea.
* First published in The Herald, Monday July 17th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique

Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****

In recent years, gypsy jazz bands with a Hot Club-inspired line-up have become as much a feature of jazz festivals as trad and Dixieland jazz groups and the most exciting ones are those in which the violinist and the lead guitarist are on equal musical footing (the Tim Kliphuis Trio, with Nigel Clark on guitar, springs to mind), or the band is doing something a bit different with the classic gypsy sound (Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, for example). 
 
Rose Room, the Glasgow-based quartet which boasts violinist extraordinaire Seonaid Aitken as its star, ticks neither of the above boxes on its own – but, on Friday, it brought in special guests to turn what could have been an enjoyable but unremarkable gig into something more becoming of a jazz festival opening night. Saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski injected a welcome dose of edginess to proceedings which, thanks to the jaunty, cheery tunes and Aitken’s 1930s BBC radio dance band singing style, often sound cosily retro, while the addition of The Capella Quartet to a series of tunes from Rose Room’s regular repertoire put a different spin on the music, and added depth and class.
 
Indeed, The Capella Quartet provided one of the highlights of the evening – a beautiful, unusual arrangement of Moonlight in Vermont which managed to just about block out the thumping, pumping beat emanating from the tent-next-door’s soundcheck. Blues in My Heart – possibly the jolliest blues I’ve ever heard – also stood out because it featured Aitken’s lovely vocals with a funky accompaniment from guitarist Tom Watson, playing chunky chords, and Wiszniewski at his downright raunchiest.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Remembering Alex Welsh

Remembering Alex Welsh, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square ****

For the second consecutive year, the evening slot on the last day of the jazz festival– or as bandleader John Burgess called it “the fag-end of the festival” – became a jovial celebration of the music of the much-loved Scottish trumpeter and legend of British jazz who died, aged 52, in 1982.

Sunday’s concert reunited the line-up from last year, and was led by the afore-mentioned clarinettist/saxophonist and amiable host Burgess whose jokey patter added to the festive atmosphere. Indeed, from the energy expended by the entire seven-piece band in the opening number, it seemed as if the musicians had started the party without us: they were already on fire when they launched into a rousing Rose Room – there was no gradual build-up. No sooner had a clarinet-wielding Burgess played along with the front line on the melody of Rose Room than he was blowing the sax on the first solo. This was a high-octane concert from the get-go.

Particularly impressive – as ever – was the human dynamo Enrico Tomasso, who, at his best is an irrepressible bundle of musical energy when he’s playing this sort of Chicago-style jazz – and whose solos seemed to explode out of him, notably on an exhilarating After You’ve Gone. Burgess was being facetious when he described him as “quite simply the finest in his price range” but Tomasso is undoubtedly the best when it comes to contemporary trumpeters with the Louis Armstrong influence to the fore.

And, of course, there were also terrific contributions from the great, ever-nimble and ever-lyrical trombonist Roy Williams, who, as a veteran of Welsh’s band, brought the stamp of authenticity to the proceedings.

* First published in HeraldScotland on Monday July 25th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Diplomats of Jazz

Diplomats of Jazz, City Art Centre ****

For several years, it was a tradition for this reviewer to request a ticket for the Friday afternoon gig at the Royal Overseas League – and to be told that it had sold out days before and there were no spare tickets. So it was great to see in this year’s programme that the ever-popular Edinburgh band the Diplomats of Jazz were playing their annual Jazz Festival gig at this event’s new venue, the City Art Centre’s fifth floor, which clearly holds a larger audience than the ROL.

It’s no wonder the Diplomats have such a strong following and can easily pack out venues even at a time of year when there are plenty of out-of-town bands around to choose from. They are wonderful purveyors of classic jazz which they play with good humour and style. And it’s always a delight to hear the combined sound of cornet, clarinet, banjo and sousaphone.

Last year, the band’s cornet-playing leader Jim Petrie had a not-so funny turn during their gig and had to be taken to hospital, but he was looking and sounding good on Friday – though his cornet had less of a work-out than his gravelly vocals, and he was suffering from the intense heat from the stadium lights on the stage.

Despite their discomfort, the fully dinner-suited quartet served up an hour’s worth of swinging tunes. Among the catchy highlights were East Coast Trot and Yearning, both of which showcased this band’s top-notch ensemble playing as well as some terrific clarinet solos by Bob Busby, whose spiky-round-the-edges sound brought the great Sandy Brown to mind.

First published on HeraldScotland on Sunday July 24th

Diplomats of Jazz, City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Friday July 22nd

Angry

She’s Funny That Way

New Orleans Shuffle

Baby Won’t You Please Come Home

East Coast Trot

Yearning

Give Me a June Night, the Moonlight and You

Crying’ For the Carolines

Swing That Music

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Carol Kidd & David Newton

Carol Kidd & David Newton, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square *****

Well, well – just when you’re beginning to wonder if the days of five-star reviews for Carol Kidd concerts are in the past, she turns in the performance of this reviewer’s jazz festival.

Thursday evening’s concert may only have been an hour long, and the singer and her pianist may have had to contend with an unacceptable amount of external noise, but it was an absolute delight from start to finish, with Kidd on top form as she powered through ten songs with a minimal amount of chat in between.

Reunited with David Newton, her pianist/MD in the early 1990s, Kidd revisited many favourite numbers from her earlier career, notably a rare outing for How Little We Know which featured the singer at her playful best, clearly enjoying herself whether she was getting a kick out of the cheekily sexy lyrics or bopping around on the stage during Newton’s elegantly swinging solo.

She also, undoubtedly, got a kick out of the effect her singing had on the sold-out Spiegeltent audience. There wasn’t a sound to be heard in the tent (outside was a different matter – yapping dogs, drinkers’ chatter and sirens were just some of the sounds that listeners had to blank out). Everyone was spellbound and rivetted, not least by Kidd’s ever-mesmerising way with a ballad. How Do You Keep the Music Playing was heart-wrenchingly lovely while The Ballad of the Sad Young Men was a masterclass in painting a vivid picture in song – and, with its line “All the news is bad again; kiss your dreams goodbye”, painfully poignant and apt.

Here’s listening to you, Kidd …

First published in HeraldScotland on Sunday July 24th

Carol Kidd & David Newton, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, Thursday July 21st

A Foggy Day

Night and Day

Skylark

How Little We Know

Ballad of the Sad Young Men

On the Sunny Side of the Street

Moonlight in Vermont (DN solo)

You Make Me Feel So Young

How Do You Keep the Music Playing

You Don’t Know Me

When I Dream (encore)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Remembering Chet Baker

Remembering Chet Baker, City Art Centre ****
 
It may sound like the title of a show, but Remembering Chet Baker is the name of the Scottish trio which, for the last four years, has been celebrating the music and musical style of the jazz icon who died prematurely 28 years ago. As they hinted during Monday afternoon’s performance, there’s not much point in celebrating Baker’s life or him as a person: he seems to have hurt everyone in his life and, by all accounts, was really not a very nice human being.
 
That, combined with the inescapable fact that Baker was a master of melancholy famous for such mope-fests as the misery-laden ballads The Thrill is Gone and You Don’t Know What Love Is could have made one suspect that this would not be the cheeriest way to spend a Monday afternoon. However, nothing could have been further from the truth – thanks to the fact that singer/presenter Iain Ewing punctuated proceedings with cheeky patter, and kept the mood light.
 
Both Ewing and trumpeter Colin Steele, who was on top form, have clearly been influenced by Baker’s lyrical, pared-back style and gentle, soft tone – but, refreshingly, neither attempts to mimic him or recreate his solos. It’s as if both musicians have been so steeped in Baker’s recordings that they can give the standards associated with him a lovely, Baker-esque, flavour, without resorting to impersonations.
 
Among the specific highlights were the classy, upbeat opener There Will Never Be Another You, which featured the first of a series of gorgeously understated solos by Steele; pianist Euan Stevenson’s elegant, Satie-like accompaniment on I Get Along Without You Very Well, and the two instrumentalists’ electrifying duet on All the Things You Are.
* First published on HeraldScotland, Wednesday July 20th

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