Tag Archives: Konrad Wiszniewski

Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Eliot Murray Big Band

Eliot Murray Big Band: 1947 Tommy Sampson and Edwin Holland, West Princes Street Gardens Spiegeltent ****
 
It may have been the jazz festival show with the longest title but that title still doesn’t explain what Tuesday lunchtime’s West Princes Street Gardens gig was all about. The short-lived big band formed by Edinburgh-born trumpeter Tommy Sampson (who died in 2008 at the age of 90) just after the Second World War is considered by many to be one of the best British big bands of the era. 
 
Sampson, who became known as “Scotland’s King of Swing,” founded the 17—piece band for the 1947 season at the El Dorado ballroom in Leith, and, playing arrangements by Sampson and his right-hand man Edwin Holland, it was an instant hit and soon made a big impact on the British music scene, thanks to numerous tours and BBC broadcasts.  
 
Just as the Sampson orchestra saw the likes of future international star Joe Temperley pass through its ranks, so Tuesday’s concert, under the direction of the affable Eliot Murray, a longtime associate of Sampson, boasted the cream of the current crop of Scottish jazz musicians (including Laura Macdonald, Konrad Wiszniewski and Allon Beauvoisin), several of whom are having a busy festival juggling different musical personalities for different projects. 
 
Martin Kershaw, for example, was last seen playing the part of Lee Konitz in the Birth of the Cool concert at the weekend, but on Tuesday he slipped elegantly into 1940s swing mode, playing some hot, sweet clarinet a la Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. His storming solo on Herman’s Apple Honey added an extra level of excitement to what was already a sensational number.
 
* First published in The Herald, Thursday July 20th
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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique

Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****

In recent years, gypsy jazz bands with a Hot Club-inspired line-up have become as much a feature of jazz festivals as trad and Dixieland jazz groups and the most exciting ones are those in which the violinist and the lead guitarist are on equal musical footing (the Tim Kliphuis Trio, with Nigel Clark on guitar, springs to mind), or the band is doing something a bit different with the classic gypsy sound (Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, for example). 
 
Rose Room, the Glasgow-based quartet which boasts violinist extraordinaire Seonaid Aitken as its star, ticks neither of the above boxes on its own – but, on Friday, it brought in special guests to turn what could have been an enjoyable but unremarkable gig into something more becoming of a jazz festival opening night. Saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski injected a welcome dose of edginess to proceedings which, thanks to the jaunty, cheery tunes and Aitken’s 1930s BBC radio dance band singing style, often sound cosily retro, while the addition of The Capella Quartet to a series of tunes from Rose Room’s regular repertoire put a different spin on the music, and added depth and class.
 
Indeed, The Capella Quartet provided one of the highlights of the evening – a beautiful, unusual arrangement of Moonlight in Vermont which managed to just about block out the thumping, pumping beat emanating from the tent-next-door’s soundcheck. Blues in My Heart – possibly the jolliest blues I’ve ever heard – also stood out because it featured Aitken’s lovely vocals with a funky accompaniment from guitarist Tom Watson, playing chunky chords, and Wiszniewski at his downright raunchiest.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th

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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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