CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (featuring Tam Dean Burn & Makoto Ozone) – Peter And The Wolf

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (featuring Tam Dean Burn & Makoto Ozone) – Peter And The Wolf
(Spartacus Records STS027 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

The SNJO continue to boldly state both their musical excellence and their Scots heritage with this engaging performance of Serge Prokofiev’s classic fable, newly arranged and orchestrated by SNJO director Tommy Smith with the text adapted into Scots by Liz Lochhead and performed with huge emphatic energy by Tam Dean Burn.

Peter And The Wolf has of course been a mainstay of the orchestral repertoire for decades, featuring different instruments representing the characters in the story. The big-band instrumentation necessitates some adjustments; Peter himself is portrayed by the sparkling piano of regular SNJO collaborator Makoto Ozone (there being no string section), Tom MacNiven’s muted trumpet slinks along as the duck, and Grandfather ponderously stomps up as Bill Fleming’s baritone sax plus Calum Gourlay’s double bass.  More conventionally, the bird and cat are respectively brought to life by flute (Yvonne Robertson) and clarinet (Martin Kershaw).

The real star of the show, however, is the new Scots text from leading Scottish poet Liz Lochhead. A word of explanation might be useful here; this is not Scottish Gaelic, nor English, but the language spoken by the majority of Scots-born folk – the language you’ll hear on the street in Glasgow (‘Glesca’ in Scots) or in its Doric form on the quayside at Peterhead. Decades ago this might have been viewed by English outsiders as a kind of distorted version of their own language, but is now well recognised as a written – as well as spoken – language in its own right. You won’t have much difficulty understanding it! What is does is bring the drama firmly into a Scottish context, without ever having to state the location, as well as presenting language as spoken in everyday life in the artistic and cultural domain of the concert hall.

This text is brought to life by an enormous performance from actor, musician and activist Tam Dean Burn. A leading actor with appearances in Sky’s arctic drama Fortitude, Outlander and (inevitably) Taggart under his belt, Burn is also thoroughly committed to working with young people – he toured Scotland on a bicycle in 2014, reading all 195 of Julia Donaldson’s stories to children. He throws himself into the fray with total commitment, really making the most of the sonic possibilities and drawing meaning and emphasis from every phrase. The CD was recorded at a live performance in Edinburgh in 2018 so there is no room for error, and the way Burn (and the orchestra) sustains the performance is remarkable.

The new orchestrations from Tommy Smith (awarded a richly-deserved OBE in the New Year honours list) use the SNJO resources imaginatively and the positively symphonic music springs along with great pace and swagger. There isn’t a lot of extended improvising, but pianist Makoto Ozone makes the most of his opportunities, notably in In Big Trouble, and the flute of Yvonne Robertson is lively and flawless throughout. The new text adds to the story, particularly at the end after the wolf has been captured, with a very contemporary ending. And if you want to know what that is, well, you’ll have to get the CD (which includes the full new text) or join the SNJO at Ronnie Scott’s in London where they are performing this work on Saturday 26 January 2019, having given a different programme of Scottish music for Burns Night the evening before.

There is an extract from the performance here:

LINK: SNJO at Ronnie Scott’s

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