Jerry Forde New Phoenix Jazz Band, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 26th ***
The talented Martin Foster should take some considerable satisfaction in the fact that his place in the advertised line-up of the Jerry Forde New Phoenix Jazz Band last night was filled by not one but two saxophonists (baritone and alto). As one of the A-list front line of this reborn sextet, Foster would have been a draw, alongside trumpeter Colin Steele and clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Dick Lee. But even with two deps in Foster’s place, the band still didn’t premiere The New Century Jazz Rag which had been flagged up in the festival programme.
Nevertheless, they did deliver on the theme of music from across the decades of jazz, and it was a treat to hear Colin Steele – not usually a player one hears in this kind of group – getting his chops around tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong. Indeed, Steele revealed an Armstrong influence in his playing which was by turn exuberant, majestic and playful and stood out especially on Symphonic Raps, That’s My Home and Oriental Man. On Thelonious Rag, he played with a Louis-like swagger.
The more loosely arranged numbers, notably Riverside Blues, were most appealing but the evening’s two stand-outs both featured a young singer, Christine Adams, who blew the audience away with her beguiling and quirky interpretations of the Billie Holiday song Endie and My Sweetie Went Away (last heard on these shores crooned by the much-missed Marty Grosz).
* First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 27th
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
We Love Louis, Queen’s Hall, Saturday July 24th ****
Singers Clairdee & Todd Gordon
Louis Armstrong was – as singer Clairdee pointed out at the tribute concert at the Queen’s Hall on Saturday – the first great jazz innovator and an influence on every player who followed him. But he was also, as Saturday’s show highlighted, one of the great pop singers of the 20th century, who sang songs by all the greats, was a beloved entertainer and always injected fun into the proceedings.
This side of him was brilliantly evoked by a generous programme which was stuffed with tunes from throughout Armstrong’s long career. Some – Jeepers Creepers, Basin Street Blues and Hello Dolly, for example – were more strongly associated with him than others (Love Is Here To Stay and Autumn in New York don’t leap to mind when his name is mentioned).
Nevertheless, the spirit of Satchmo was certainly in evidence throughout – in the All Stars-like line-up (a front line of trumpeter Leroy Jones, trombonist Katja Toivola and clarinettist/saxophonist Martin Foster) – and in the easy-going, good-natured rapport onstage, especially between singers Todd Gordon and the afore-mentioned Clairdee, a honey-voiced American, whose Scottish debut this was. Their duets from the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong records were highlights of the night.
Indeed, with her show-stopping interpretation of Summertime – an elegantly restrained reading of the classic Gershwin ballad – and her gorgeous They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Clairdee probably guaranteed a few more bums on seats for her next jazz festival gig on Tuesday.
(First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 25th)