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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Havana Swing

Havana Swing, Teatro Spiegeltent, Friday July 27th ***

Well, there can’t be many better ways to launch oneself into the final weekend of the jazz festival than by listening – and in certain sections of the packed Spiegeltent audience – dancing to the Dundonian band, Havana Swing.

Inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and his fellow gypsy jazzers, Havana Swing may not have any gypsy blood flowing through the veins of its band members (one of whom was absent last night) but it certainly conjures up the spirit of Django and co. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. As bass player Calum McKenzie quipped about one of the two lead guitarists: “Ashley’s from Perth. In order to learn that authentic style, he stayed with the gypsies in Dundee. For three years. Made a man of him.”

This was easygoing, easy-to-enjoy jazz served with a healthy dose of humour and, latterly, a dollop of panache. The first half of the concert was fun but unremarkable; a series of jaunty numbers – including the catchy Hotel du Palais (“written in the Hotel du Palais, Aberfeldy”) which suggested that Havana Swing’s main forte is as an ensemble – no single player stood out as the star of the show.

In the second half, however, Walter Smith’s gorgeous, golden-toned clarinet came to the fore, beautifully offset on such lovely ballads as Nuages and Harlem Nocturne by the collective, gently swinging sound of John Whyte and Ashley Malcom’s lead guitars and McKenzie’s bass.

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 28th


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Edinburgh Jazz Festival: Havana Swing


There’s a first time for everything, as Monday lunchtime’s jazz festival gig at the Royal Overseas League proved. Never before at a jazz concert have I seen the police being called to deal with an incident of alleged assault – though given how cramped this venue is (and always has been), it’s little wonder that tempers get frayed.

The Dundee band Havana Swing was halfway through its first set of Django Reinhardt-associated and inspired music when all hell broke loose at the back of the room. As the band’s leader later said, this music does seem to attract nutters – after all, we had hecklers at the previous day’s Django gig.

As for the music? Well, it was – ironically enough – happy, jaunty, feelgood jazz executed with great panache by the quartet who seemed quite chuffed by the fact that a fracas had kicked off at one of their concerts. Among the many highlights were the snappy Hotel de Palais, which we were told “sounds very grand but was written one night when the lads were in Aberfeldy”, and the superb closers of the first set, I’ll See You in My Dreams and Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, which featured wonderful playing by clarinettist Walter Smith. Indeed, the band, which was really cooking from the get-go, seemed to up the ante even more after the drama.

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