Tag Archives: Konrad Wiszniewski

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra

Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra – Hot Horns, George Square Spiegeltent ***

A performance by Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra at the Spiegeltent has become an annual event at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, and it is usually accompanied by this reviewer sitting on the edge of her seat as she thrills to the lesser-played Bix or Ellington tune being lovingly and energetically recreated by the gentlemen of the band.

On Saturday evening, however, the thrills were fewer and further between than usual – despite the participation of English trumpeter Enrico Tomasso as guest star. One of the ways in which the CJO normally gets the spines a-tingling is through the terrific unison playing of members of the top-notch front line, but for much of Saturday’s concert, the ensemble playing just didn’t have the usual pizazz and was actually a bit on the raggedy side. More loose like this than tight like that, as Louis Armstrong might have said.

Nevertheless, the CJO on a slightly off day is still preferable to most alternatives, and there were treats scattered here and there through the concert, among them Dick Lee’s impish clarinet breaks and Phil O’Malley’s eloquent ones on Wild Man Blues, Lee’s funky penny whistle solo on Savoy Blues and Konrad Wiszniewski’s dynamic tenor solo on Swedish Schnapps.

As for Tomasso, he demonstrated once again that when it comes to emulating the style and sound of Louis Armstrong, he is the leader of the pack. No-one Else But You was the first of a run of tunes which burst into life as soon as he came in on trumpet.

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

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2014: Cindy Douglas Sings Billie Holiday

Cindy Douglas Sings Billie Holiday, Tron Kirk, Saturday July 19th ***

Scottish singer Cindy Douglas served up a pretty impressive debut show at the Tron on Saturday. Well, two shows actually – both celebrating the often unsung musical relationship of the great Billie Holiday and her tenor saxophonist soulmate Lester Young. The fact that this was not going to be an attempt at recreating their sounds was obvious even before Douglas had opened her mouth: the choice of Konrad Wiszniewski, who sounds beefier and more muscular than the melancholic, dreamy Lester Young, as her musical partner spoke volumes. It’s a shame that his name wasn’t advertised beforehand – not that there would have been room for many more audience-members.

With a girlish, soft-edged voice, Douglas herself sounds nothing like Lady Day though aspects of her style, notably its simplicity, evoked her heroine’s on occasion. She put her own spin on the songs, most of which had a casual, spontaneous accompaniment by Wiszniewski and her trio.

On some of Holiday’s more personal later numbers, however, there were bold attempts to reinvent them – with varying degrees of success: a heavy-handed arrangement of Good Morning Heartache turned it, bizarrely, into a jaunty number. More daring and successful was a striking duet of Strange Fruit with Karen Marshalsay playing the bray harp.

Some of the song choices were odd – How Long Has This Been Going On? is not a Holiday-associated number – and it would perhaps have made sense to include more of the 1930s repertoire which is synonymous with the Holiday-Young heyday. But it was a flying start.

First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 21st

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2013: Ken Mathieson CJO & Evan Christopher

Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra with Evan Christopher, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Tuesday July 23rd ****

It can be a bit of a political minefield when a band which has a brace of ace soloists in its line-up is joined by a special guest: egos can be bruised as the star mops up most of the solo space assigned to his given instrument. But when New Orleans-based Evan Christopher made his debut as a guest with the Classic Jazz Orchestra on Tuesday evening, bandleader Ken Mathieson made a virtue of the fact that he now had three top clarinettists in his group.

Three clarinets playing featured together can be a thrilling sound – and, from the off, Martin Foster, Dick Lee and Christopher made a terrific trio; Foster’s lovely, grainy tone contrasting strikingly with Christopher’s sweet and hot sound on Charlie the Chulo. Dardanella featured several examples of the thrill of the clarinet trio: early on, they were seductive, playing in unison, before letting rip separately but simultaneously at the exhilarating finale. Sidney Bechet’s Moulin a Café also climaxed with a showstopping three-way dialogue between Foster, Lee and Christopher.

Other highlights included trombonist Phil O’Malley’s spare and elegant contribution to Mood Indigo and tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski’s slinky solo on Barney Bigard’s Lament for Javanette.

Indeed, Mathieson quipped that Barney Bigard’s estate would be having a bumper night, royalties-wise, but it was Jelly Roll Morton’s which received the bigger boost since the CJO performed a string of Morton numbers, including a couple which had never been played before – anywhere. None of these proved as electrifying, however, as an impromptu Blue Horizon in which Christopher, soloing with rhythm section, wowed the audience with a masterful display of his sultry, southern-drenched sound.

* First published in The Herald, Thursday July 25

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Videos: Classic Jazz Orchestra

To read my review of this concert, click here

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra Salutes the Kings of Jazz

Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra Salutes the Kings of Jazz, Salon Elegance, Tuesday July 24th ****

Five days into the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and even the most seasoned campaigner can begin to lag. Thank the lord, then, for Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra and its Beiderbecke-heavy Tuesday evening programme. There is nothing like a blast of Bix to buoy this girl’s flagging spirits – and the CJO obliged, in style, serving up so many uplifting and jubilant 1920s hits that it was almost impossible to resist the urge to rouge one’s knees, bob one’s hair and embark on a dance marathon with gay abandon (if not a gay friend).

The Beiderbecke repertoire is packed with gems which Mathieson has dusted off and lovingly arranged for his eight-piece band, and it’s always a delight to hear them being played with so much panache and enthusiasm – and especially by such terrific younger players as trombonist Phil O’Malley and tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski.

One of the particular joys of the CJO’s interpretations of Bix music is the way in which the cornettist’s unforgettable and often exquisite solos have been retained and arranged for the entire outfit to play, often in unison – and, on Tuesday, a highlight was the famous I’m Comin’ Virginia solo which trumpeter Billy Hunter began on his own before being joined by le tout ensemble.

Other stand-outs in this Bix bonanza were From Monday On, Ostrich Walk and There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears which featured a dazzling solo from Wiszniewski who was also memorably showcased on Buddy Tate’s Idlin’ – from the non-Beiderbecke part of the programme.

First published in The Herald on Thursday, July 26th

Ostrich Walk

There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears

Old Stack O’Lee Blues

Squatty Roo

Big Butter and Egg Man

I’m Comin’ Virginia

Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down

Can’t We Be Friends

From Monday On

Jack the Bear

Singin’ the Blues

Eccentric

Rollini

Idlin’

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Review: Brass Jaw

Brass Jaw, Recital Room, City Halls, Glasgow, Sunday December 4 ****

You’ve got to hand it to Brass Jaw. This Glasgow-based jazz quartet is still in its infancy but it has already established itself as an award-winning outfit – and one which has a loyal following. Which would explain why the Recital Room was packed out on a particularly miserable Sunday night in December.

The Scottish jazz world’s answer to the Fab Four seemed determined to leave no listener unconverted: after kicking off with a slow and solemn Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas they exploded into life, like a New Orleans funeral band, with a freewheeling and dynamic take on Comin’ Home Baby, which not only created an instant party atmosphere but set out the template for the way this unique band works. Baritone saxophonist Allon Beauvoisin – a one-man rhythm section – is the glue that holds the sound together, while his bandmates, trumpeter Ryan Quigley and saxophonists Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, bring colour and theatricality to the proceedings – along with a hint of Marx Brothers-like mayhem.

On tune after tune – notably such funky numbers as Joe Zawinal’s Walk Tall and Horace Silver’s Senor Blues – in the first half of Sunday’s concert, it was impossible to resist the infectious joie-de-vivre emanating from this lively band. During the second set, a series of samey-sounding and occasionally rather turgid original compositions threatened to sap the party spirit but a joyous Sunny, played as an encore while the group snaked its way around the room, ensured that the night ended on a high.

* First published in The Scotsman, Tuesday December 6

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Stan’s the Man for Edinburgh

Stan Getz means different things to different music fans. The jazz great, whose death 20 years ago is being commemorated by the 2011 Edinburgh Jazz Festival, is best known the world over as the saxophonist featured on one of the biggest-selling jazz singles of all time, the The Girl From Ipanema. Certainly that gorgeous track highlights the hallmarks of the Getz sound – his lyricism, and a sort of yearning, ethereal tone – as well as his swinging style, but the Brazilian bossa nova phase was one of several highly productive, and hugely influential, periods in a four-decade career which is represented by various concerts, plus a panel discussion, in this year’s jazz festival.

Born in 1927, Getz was the son of Ukrainian parents who had fled the pogroms. He was raised in the Bronx, in New York, and took up saxophone when he was 13 years old, having already demonstrated that he had a terrific ear for music by picking out tunes on the piano or the harmonica and committing a raft of Benny Goodman’s clarinet solos to memory. (By the time he was 19, he was working for Goodman.)

Getz began his professional career at the age of just 16, when he went on the road with the great trombonist Jack Teagarden. Stints with the bands led by Stan Kenton and Jimmy Dorsey followed, before the Goodman one which was followed by his celebrated tenure, from 1946-1950, as one of the quartet of saxophonists known as the Four Brothers within Woody Herman’s Second Herd band.

It was Getz’s spare and langorous solo on their 1948 recording of Early Autumn that made his name as a major new improvising talent. This breakthrough period of his career will be reflected at the jazz festival by a concert celebrating the Four Brothers and featuring the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra under the direction of clarinettist and tenor saxophonist Ken Peplowski.

After quitting Herman’s band in 1950, Getz began to lead his own small groups and became one of the most popular saxophonists of the decade, thanks in part to a series of peerless albums, including Stan Getz Plays and Stan Getz and The Oscar Peterson Trio, which, says Scottish tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, was a major influence on him.

“That album just blows me away – it doesn’t get any better,” he says. “His playing is so melodic, you can imagine a voice singing these lines. There’s a kind of tenderness in his playing, an emotional quality that you didn’t hear much when I was learning to play – it was all Michael Brecker, and a much more about a kind of aggressive soloing. I was much more drawn to the 1950s recordings by Stan Getz.”

For the jazz festival, however, Wiszniewski is headlining a concert which celebrates another landmark album in the tenor man’s career and is that rare treat – a jazz concert with strings.

Focus, recorded 50 years ago, just before the bossa nova phenomenon exploded, has long been a cult LP and stands out in the Getz canon not just because it’s his strings album, but also because it’s not as easily accessible as the more mainstream bossa or big band output.  Festival director Roger Spence says: “This album had some tough music in it – I’d compare it to something by Bartok – and I believe that it’s probably the greatest of all the recorded collaborations between jazz soloists and string ensembles.”

On the original album, a full string section played arrangements by the master arranger Eddie Sauter. It took, says Wiszniewski, months for the scores to be tracked down (from Yale University), and it’s taken almost as long to figure out how to pare them down for a quartet – luckily his future father-in-law, Ian Budd, is the principal viola in the RSNO, and was able to help – and how to handle the Getz part which, says Wiszniewski, is entirely improvised. “There are some chords there but what he’s going by are cues from the strings. He’s taken some themes from the strings and he’s playing them and developing them as well. So it is quite an organic piece of music.”

Getz himself claimed that it was his proudest achievement in the recording studio because – due to the sudden death of his mother – he had missed the session with the orchestra and had to record his part separately. It sounds as if the strings and the jazz star are interacting and responding to each other when you listen to the album; in fact, Getz was hearing the pre-recorded strings through headphones – and was struggling not to be thrown by his inability to hear his own sax.

In order to evoke Getz as he sounded on the album, Wiszniewski is going play some of his improvised melodies and expand on them. He’s clearly excited by the challenge, and delighted to have been given the opportunity to pay tribute to a phenomenal improviser and stylist who, as Roger Spence points out, “is one of the giants of the LP era”; one whose output is as worthy of celebration by a jazz festival as a jazz composer’s.

* For full details of the Stan Getz strand, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com or call 0131 467 5200.

 

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