Tag Archives: John Burgess

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 & Blues Festival: Remembering Alex Welsh

Remembering Alex Welsh, Tron Kirk ****

Anyone who knew Alex Welsh, the Edinburgh-born trumpet star who died in 1982, and who was at Sunday evening’s tribute concert, will have been heartened by how well he is still remembered and how he inspired arguably the best concert of the final days of this year’s jazz festival.

Of course it helped that the septet comprised two members of Welsh’s famous band – the English trombone star Roy Williams and guitarist/banjoist Jim Douglas. The eloquent Williams, an old favourite of Edinburgh audiences, in his introduction to a gorgeous Cole Porter rarity entitled You Are Everything I Love, told the packed house: “It’s wonderful to be doing this – and quite emotional too, because we had some great times. You may have noticed that we were five minutes late starting the gig – that was a tradition of the Alex Welsh band!”

Explaining that it’s only recently that he has come to appreciate how good the band sounded, Williams described the day-to-day reality of playing the same tunes with the same guys every night. Trumpeter Enrico Tomasso, who was just 11 when he met Welsh, paid verbal and musical homage in style: a veritable jazz dynamo, he was in tremendous form throughout – as was the rest of the front line, which included ringmaster John Burgess (clarinet/saxophone) and which made even the oldest of old warhorses sound fresh, energetic and exciting.

Burgess may not have had the firsthand experience of encountering Alex Welsh – he didn’t say – but it was clear that it was his love of the band’s recordings which prompted this project, and so much fun was had by all that we can undoubtedly expect a reunion in the not-too-distant.

* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 27th

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: John Burgess Big Five

John Burgess Big Five, St Andrew Square Spiegeltent ***

How can you keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve heard the all-star ensemble that took to the George Square Spiegeltent earlier in the jazz festival week? That Monday night concert, which boasted a front line that included American stars Warren Vaché (cornet) and Scott Hamilton (tenor sax), was still the talk of the town by Friday evening when the similar, but slightly scaled down, all-Scots line-up led by clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess took to the St Andrew Square Spiegeltent stage.

But whereas the Monday concert had been edge-of-the-seat stuff, with every number a showcase for one genius or another and the musicians playing to a rapt audience, Friday’s – or at least the first half – was more the sort of gig folk spill into after work, and the music was the ideal accompaniment to a an early evening drinking session rather than something that made you want to hang on to every last note. The Friday-night-in-the-pub atmosphere certainly extended to the back of the tent where there was some distinctly boorish and intimidating behaviour unravelling as the band played on.

Things improved in the second half which featured some majestic and pared-down trumpet from Colin Steele on Someday You’ll Be Sorry and Everybody Loves My Baby, and a lovely, lyrical clarinet feature from John Burgess on I’m In the Market For You, which he dedicated to his hero, the famous Edinburgh clarinettist Archie Semple, plus some characteristically inventive drumming from John Rae who, along with Campbell Normand (piano) , was not the musician advertised in the festival programme.

* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 27th

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Review: Leith Jazz Festival 2014

The Ugly Bug Ragtime ThreeFree jazz can mean two things. It can connote jazz that’s wholly, wildly, improvised – and it can mean amateur hour. And that’s where this year’s Leith Jazz Festival turned out to be the exception that proves the rule. Why? Because over the course of two and a half days, it offered punters the chance to hear not just good jazz, but also world-class jazz – and all for the price of a pint (or three).

Returning to the festival for its third year, alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw must have had deja vu as he took to what passed for the stage area in Sofi’s on Saturday. His duo gig there with bassist Ed Kelly was one of the highlights of 2012, and the follow-up was just as memorable – though this time it had the added appeal of a canine floorshow as it coincided with the monthly meeting of local dog owners and their pooches.

Kershaw and Kelly dished up a wonderful afternoon of cool, classy swinging jazz, with an especially slow Manha de Carnivale and the beguiling, Stan Getz-associated, ballad With the Wind and the Rain In Your Hair among the highlights.

A second helping of Kershaw’s airy, eloquent sax was a must on Sunday at the Isobar where the 1950s West Coast sound was evoked by him, trombonist Chris Grieve and guitarist Graeme Stephen, a sublime sounding combination which – appropriately enough, given that Leith’s twin city is Rio de Janeiro – worked especially well on a couple of bossas.

The Isobar also played host to another of the weekend’s stand-outs: a duo gig by trumpeter Colin Steele and guitarist Lachlan MacColl. The joint was jumping so much that MacColl’s douce guitar playing got lost in the lively ambience, but Steele certainly made himself heard, not least on an especially funky Blues March and an uptempo, boppish All the Things You Are – the second of three outings for the Jerome Kern classic that the Isobar witnessed over the weekend.

For anyone who fondly remembers the old Edinburgh Jazz Festival pub trail, the Leith event is its 21st century incarnation. The spirit seemed to prevail most strongly at the Saturday afternoon gig by The Ugly Bug Ragtime Three (pictured above), a clarinet-bass-banjo/guitar trio recently hatched by leader John Burgess.

If only there had been more breathing space in the packed-out Malt ‘n’ Hops pub, there would almost certainly have been an outbreak of slow dancing along to the Uglies’ gorgeous, gently swinging How Come You Do Me Like You Do. Ah well. Maybe next year … the festival is still young.

* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 9th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Videos: Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock

To read my review of this concert, click here

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock

Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock, Teatro Spiegeltent, Sunday July 29th

****

Yowser. The Edinburgh Jazz Festival ended in party mode on Sunday night with a rip-roaring concert by a group which is not exactly a stranger to Edinburgh audiences. But what the Nova Scotia Jazz Band lacked in exotic appeal it made up for in energy and enthusiasm: this was a terrific gig which ensured that the festival went out with a bang for those of us in attendance. Only a bit of dancing would have added to the fun.

And dancing would certainly have complemented the music which included scorching performances of suchJazz Age pop tunes as Black Bottom and The Charleston. Only bandleader John Burgess’s battle cry of “G’on yersel’!” to banjo player Duncan Finlay on the high-octane opener Goody Goody threatened to shatter the illusion that we were in a1920s Chicago speakeasy.

Playing in the front line of the Nova Scotias for the first time since Mike Daly’s departure, trumpeter Ryan Quigley brought a dynamism to proceedings and delivered a series of superb, red-hot solos on material not normally associated with him. His muted breaks on That Da-Da Strain were especially memorable, along with some beautiful, Chet Baker-esque playing on Embraceable You, a gorgeous duet with pianist Brian Kellock who had earlier threatened to blow the roof of the tent off with his sensational playing, notably on what must be the only version of C Jam Blues to kick off with the Death March theme from Star Wars.

It will be a night to remember for local bass player Roy Percy, too – though not for the cheeriest of reasons: apologising for the late start to the concert, John Burgess explained that Percy, who had been playing earlier in the evening, had fallen from the stage and dislocated his shoulder.

First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 31st

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CD Recommendations: June 2012

Martin Taylor & Alan Barnes: Two For the Road (Woodville Records) 

With the right combination of musicians, the duo can be THE most satisfying of jazz line-ups – and this CD is a perfect example. Martin Taylor (guitar) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) have created a beautiful, intimate, album which showcases their rapport and mutual respect and plays out like a series of conversations – some cosy chats, some playful banter and some lively debates. And you don’t have to be a fan of Taylor’s guitar monologues to get a huge kick out of his lovely, warm, lyrical playing on this CD. A joy.

Sonny Stitt: Now!/Salt and Pepper (Impulse! 2-on-1)

Two early 1960s albums from the underrated tenor and alt saxophonist Sonny Stitt appear on this CD. Now! (1963) finds him asserting himself mostly on the tenor, undoubtedly to shake off the Charlie Parker comparisons, but, with his driving, lyrical style and the Bird-like improvisations, the influence is still very evident. On Salt and Pepper (1964), accompanied by an almost identical classy trio (led by pianist Hank Jones), he goes head to head with the tenor man Paul Gonsalves with memorable results.

Harry Allen & Rossano Sportiello: Conversations – The Johnny Burke Songbook (CD Baby.Com/Indys)

An instrumental album paying tribute to a lyricist may seem a bit odd but American tenor saxophonist has a personal connection to Johnny Burke, the writer of such standards as It Could Happen to You, Pennies From Heaven and Like Someone In Love. All of these are included in this lovely CD which finds the eloquent tenor man well-matched with the elegant pianist Sportiello. Their pairing is magic on the ballads especially, and it’s a rare treat to hear some of the seldom played songs Burke co-wrote for Paramount movies as well as such “new” finds as I Wish You Needed Me.

 Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock: The Beale Street Blues (Cside) 

The fourth CD from Scotland’s swinging-est purveyors of hot, Chicago-style, jazz is another wee cracker. This time, the original quartet, headed by cornettist Mike Daly and clarinettist/saxophonist John Burgess, is joined by their regular special guest Brian Kellock on piano – and the results are superb, notably such lesser-played numbers as Shim Me Sha Wabble and That Da Da Strain. Only possible quibble? I’ll Be a Friend With Pleasure is such a pretty, poignant tune, it would be a treat to hear what Daly and Kellock could do with it at a slower speed.

Benny Carter: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz) 

The quartet of 1950s/1960 LPs featured on this double CD showcases almost every one of jazz legend Benny Carter’s talents: as composer, arranger, alto saxophonist, tenor saxophonist and trumpeter. These LPs also find him in the top-notch company of the likes of Ben Webster, Andre Previn, Jimmy Rowles, Frank Rosolino and Barney Kessel – all of whom play on the opening album, the terrific Jazz Giant – and Earl Hines. It’s perhaps not essential Carter – but a superb snapshot of the great man in his (very long) middle period.

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