What’s the connection between New Focus’s often cinematic music and Brief Encounter? And Zoltán Kodály as well? Rob Adams gives us the inside story.
There might be a family reason why the music of New Focus, who headline their own Quartet gig at The Crypt in Camberwell on Friday 18 August having supported the James Taylor Quartet at Ronnie’s on the previous two nights, has been described as having a cinematic quality.
The group’s pianist, Euan Stevenson, composes much of their music on a Steinway he inherited from his grandmother, a graduate of the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Scottish Conservatoire) who had a couple of interesting cousins.
One cousin, Muir Mathieson was the Stirling-born musical director and conductor of more than a thousand film soundtracks, including the music for Brief Encounter and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Another cousin, Cedric Thorpe Davie was surely the only Glasgow High School FP who went on to study with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Zoltán Kodály.
Originally a classical player, Stevenson became interested in jazz in his teens and he won a scholarship, sponsored by Ronnie Scott, to study jazz piano at Birmingham Conservatoire in 1999.
He has since gone on to perform in concerts and masterclasses throughout the UK, Europe and the U.S. In 2011 he formed New Focus with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra saxophonist and recent winner of the Best Instrumentalist title at the Scottish Jazz Awards, Konrad Wiszniewski, after they were commissioned by Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival to perform a fiftieth anniversary tribute to Stan Getz’ orchestral album, Focus.
The instrumentation they used, including string quartet and harp, fitted so well with their own compositions that they decided to continue, wherever possible, with an expanded line-up. They have released two albums, New Focus, which was “longlisted” for the Scottish Album of the Year award in 2013, and New Focus On Song, which won them a place in BBC Radio 3’s 70th birthday celebrations in a live broadcast from the South Bank Centre last September.
The quartet version they bring to London (Andrew Robb on bass and Jon Scott on drums) can play with a tougher edge but still retains the essential attractiveness, with elements also of Scottish folk music, that has won them admirers on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall.
“People often say that New Focus’s music has a cinematic or filmic quality,” says Stevenson. “I don’t know if any of Muir Mathieson’s musical ability found its way down the family line to me but it’s inspiring to consider that someone from in our circle could make such a contribution to the film and music industry.”
Rob Adams is a journalist and music promoter based in Edinburgh. He is also New Focus’ agent.
LINK: Jazzlive at The Crypt