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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Orange Kellin & Morten Gunnar Larsen

Orange Kellin & Morten Gunnar Larsen, Spiegeltent, Monday July 23rd ****

Rain beating down on the tent’s roof, damp coats, uncomfortable Spiegeltent seats, and two guys onstage who looked like they’d taken a wrong turn en route to a convention for Latin teachers: the early evening jazz festival gig on Monday did not promise to be a joyful affair. But the duo concert featuring the versatile Norwegian pianist Larsen (last heard here last year accompanying a singer on a programme of cabaret songs) and Swedish-born clarinettist Kellin proved to be well worth running the risk of contracting trench foot from the George Square mud.

These musicians are keepers of the flame of early and classic jazz styles and, on Monday, they exhumed tunes from the repertoires of three pioneering jazz men – and made them as fresh and thrilling as they must have been when they were written, in some cases almost a century ago. With their rousing opener, Jelly Roll Morton’s Big Fat Ham, any thought of this music being of purely historic interest went out the tent window; this was thrilling, exhilarating stuff which instantly hooked the audience and kept everyone pinned to their seats for a solid 90 minutes.

With his squawky, authentic New Orleans clarinet sound, Kellin complements Larsen’s delicate, refined piano style perfectly and what was particularly appealing was the fact that each of the musicians had a direct link to one of the other two composers whose work was featured: in the 1970s, Kellin worked with the great trumpeter Jabbo Smith, whose tender ballads I Owe It All To You and Must Be Right; Can’t Be Wrong were highlights, while the young Larsen met the legendary ragtime pianist Eubie Blake at around the same time. In other words, Monday’s audience was three degrees separated from a certain Scott Joplin…

First published in The Herald, Wednesday, July 25th

Programme:

Big Fat Ham

Wild Man Blues

Shreveport Stomp

Absolutely

How Could Cupid Be So Stupid?

I Owe It All To You

Katie Red, Who’s Been Sleepin’ in My Bed?

Love Will Find a Way

Chevy Chase

Must Be Right; Can’t Be Wrong

Bandana Days

You’re Lucky to Me – Memories of You

Frog-i-more

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Berlin, Broadway and Buenos Aires – Morten Gunnar Larsen & Stale Ytterli

Berline, Broadway and Buenos Aires – Morten Gunnar Larsen & Stale Ytterli, The Hub, Monday July 25th ****

There was a poignant start to Monday’s jazz festival concert at The Hub, when the Norwegian pianist Morten Gunnar Larsen (right), referring to events in his and and singer Stale Ytterli’s country on Friday, announced the specially chosen opening song. Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars, a beautiful ballad with moving lyrics (“Sometimes it seems that God’s gone away”) was perfectly judged- and the perfect introduction to this class double-act which looked, in formal attire and shiny shoes, as if it had stumbled into the wrong festival.

It was a most unusual jazz festival gig in more ways than the merely sartorial. Although many of the songs Ytterli and Larsen performed were written by composers who were influenced by the jazz scene (Weill, Gershwin), or were part of it (Eubie Blake, Lucky Roberts), or whose music became standards (Kern, Porter), most of the concert was upmarket cabaret. Ytterli has a beautiful voice, and his performances of Blake’s Memories of You, and Weill’s Mack the Knife and Bilbao Song were wonderful – though his theatricality, combined with German vocals, on an OTT song by Frederick Hollander, did recall the singing Hitler audition scene from The Producers.

In most cases,Ytterli sang the songs in their original language, following a brief translation, and although it brought authencity to the performance, the language barrier proved a bit of a distraction. Larsen’s delicate, loose-fingered pianistics, however, needed no translation and were a delight – especially on Je ne t’aime pas which compressed a history of jazz piano into one solo.

(First published in The Scotsman, Wednesday July 27th)

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