Euan Stevenson & Konrad Wiszniewski – New Focus On Song
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4690. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
This is the second CD from Scottish musicians Euan Stevenson and Konrad Wiszniewski in the guise of New Focus. The first, inspired by Focus, Stan Getz’s collaboration with composer and arranger Eddie Sauter, had imaginative and compelling string arrangements backing a jazz quartet. This latest record builds on that, but brings out a more folk-influenced side to the compositions.
Pianist Stevenson and saxophonist Wiszniewski are joined by the ever-exciting Alyn Cosker on drums and Andrew Robb on bass, which makes up their regular touring quartet. The strings come from the Glasgow String Quartet, and further textural variety is added by Nicola Wiszniewska on flute and Alina Bzhezhinska’s harp.
Stevenson provides most of the compositions, with Wiszniewski contributing three tunes; Stevenson also arranged the pieces, which he does with skill: the balance between the jazz instruments and the string quartet is such that they reinforce each other rather than competing for attention. This is exemplified by Green Park – named after a place in Pitlochry rather than the Queen’s front garden – is bright and open, the strings picking up the rhythmic drive over which Wiszniewski plays the theme and then solos.
The strings feature on Ascension – not the John Coltrane piece of the same name – which is given in two rather different arrangements. The first starts with the strings, a classical sounding waltz worthy of a tea dance, before Stevenson takes an impressionistic solo before a lush climax leads into the Satiesque Piano Interlude. The Ascension Reprise has the same elements with particularly rich strings, but features Wiszniewski’s soprano and a cello solo, and wouldn’t be out of place on a nineteen forties film noir score.
Other numbers bring out the Celtic folk music influences – the worlds of jazz, classical and folk music are close in Scotland, musicians regularly crossing genres. On his tune Sophia’s Song, Wiszniewski plays a haunting low whistle as well a saxophone, accompanied just by the quartet. Little Allegory seems to have all the different elements – jazz, folk and classical – bound together in a very catchy riff.
The album stands on the quality of the writing, musicianship and the relationship between the two principals. Stevenson and Wiszniewski occasionally perform these tunes as a duo, stripped of all adornment; more often, it’s with their quartet. Stevenson’s arrangements for the extended ensemble add many layers without obscuring the tunes, and the jazz at their heart.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield
The album launch is on Saturday 20th August at The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Fringe