Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****
Tag Archives: Konrad Wiszniewski
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
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
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
To read my review of this concert, click here
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
There Ain’t No Sweet Man That’s Worth the Salt of My Tears
Old Stack O’Lee Blues
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
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