Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, Glasgow Art Club, Thursday November 15th ****
We fans of what is rather dismissively described as “mainstream” jazz (which is to say jazz that swings, is tuneful and usually has at least a bare-bones structure) are often made to feel like a minority group; the uncool kids on the jazz block who get torn to shreds if we stick our heads above the parapet and dare to venture a negative opinion about one of the current sacred cows.
The irony is that, since it encompasses the history of jazz, this minority music represents the majority of jazz genres and possibilities. Which is why Thursday night’s concert by Ken Mathieson’s excellent Classic Jazz Orchestra was almost entirely different to the one it gave during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival in July. Back then the focus was on the early “Kings of Jazz” – Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and Jelly Roll Morton – and their music from the 1920s and 1930s, but on Thursday, it was the middle period of jazz which was most revisited in repertoire terms.
Revisited – and refreshed. The joy of the CJO is that it is not slavishly recreating original recordings or trying to capture a period feel. It mixes numbers from across the decades – in much the same way as we do with our record collections – but they’re channelled through the prism of Mathieson’s own arrangements, or the original ones which he will undoubtedly have tweaked to suit this top-notch band.
Among the many gems served up in style on Thursday were numbers by Cannonball Adderley, Barney Bigard and Bob Brookmeyer but the absolute stand-outs were Gerry Mulligan’s Out Back of the Barn, which showcased the elegant baritone saxophone of Allon Beauvoisin, and two showstopping numbers by Antonio Carlos Jobim.
First published in The Herald, Monday November 19th
A Ghost of a Chance – the stunning stand-out from the first set played by the tenor star Scott Hamilton at last weekend’s Norwich Jazz Party, and dedicated by me to the disappointed punters who turned up at the door of the Glasgow Art Club on Thursday night.
The American saxophonist- and one-time regular visitor to Glasgow – had been advertised as playing there for Bridge Jazz, but in actual fact, had never been booked. Which is a great shame not just for the many Scottish fans cheated of the chance to hear him again, but also for him: each time I’ve seen him in the last year or so (twice in London; once in Norwich), he has expressed enthusiasm for a return to Scotland, and a reunion with pianist Brian Kellock (with whom he notched up some memorable duets in the early 2000s) in particular.
Anyway, in Norwich last week, Hamilton was in great form, turning every ballad he played into a majestic statement. There’s something regal and elder statesman-like about him these days. He has nothing to prove; it may all seem effortless but he never coasts. And his song choices are always inspired. I may have heard him three or four times since the last Norwich jamboree but I’m fairly certain I only heard one of the tunes from those gigs being recycled last weekend.
Last August I was thrilled to hear him resurrect If I Love Again, a favourite of mine from one of his early albums. In January, it was my favourite track from his 1989 Plays Ballads LP – Dream Dancing, a key player in my conversion to jazz – that he had chosen to exhume. And in Norwich last weekend, he did it again: he chose another of my favourites from his early repertoire to play, this time the sublime Gordon Jenkins ballad This Is All I Ask, which he recorded with pianist Dave McKenna in the 1980s and used to play quite often.
Until recently, I had only ever heard it performed by Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache, two of my favourite musicians. I recently heard Tony Bennett singing the lyrics on his Duets DVD and concluded that it’s infinitely better as an instrumental as the lyrics turned out to be a let-down.. Here’s Hamilton’s 2012 version, and for more of him from Norwich, visit my YouTube channel – GirlfridayJazz.
….. Top Scots jazz singer Carol Kidd and her ace guitarist Nigel Clark release their first duo album next month. Tell Me Once Again (Linn) is an exquisite collection of ballads, bossa novas (including one by Stevie Wonder) and a Buble-inspired R ‘n’ B classic. Oh, and you might recognise the name of the writer who wrote the liner notes …
….. Carol Kidd’s onetime pianist David Newton returns to his native Glasgow on March 24 to
play a quartet gig, also featuring saxophonist Stewart Forbes, at the Glasgow Art Club – the newest old venue on the Glasgow scene. The concert is part of Bridge Jazz’s new season. Visit www.bridgejazz.co.uk for details of this and other forthcoming concerts…
…..The Norwich Jazz Party runs from April 30-May 2 this year. Among those offering the ideal alternative to the inevitable wall-to-wall coverage of a certain event on April 29 are: Marty Grosz, Ken Peplowski, Warren Vache, Alan Barnes, Howard Alden, Duke Heitger, Daryl Sherman, Bob Wilber (pictured, above, in Nairn with Andrew Cleyndert on bass), Dan Block, Rossano Sportiello, Roy Williams, Scott Hamilton, Jim Galloway and Karen Sharp.
…. The Keswick Jazz Festival runs from May 12-15 this year, and as if there wasn’t enough jazz crammed into that weekend in the shape of my favourite classic jazz band – The Hot Antic Jazz Band, from France – and such top British and American names as Alan Barnes, Karen Sharp, John Hallam, Jeff Barnhart, Wendell Brunious, Enrico Tomasso and Keith Nichols, there are also going to be some pre-festival gigs by some of them, plus the Big Chris Barber Band and the Tim Kliphuis Trio (both on May 9).