Scottish Jazz Weekend.(Various venues in Edinburgh, February 21-24. Review and all photos by Patrick Hadfield)
In an otherwise fallow period, for the second year the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival programmed a long weekend of gigs across the city, thereby bringing some warmth and excitement to an otherwise dreich February. (We also covered the SNJO’s “Planet Wave”; Mark McKergow’s review is HERE).
L-R: Kit Downes – Norma Winstone – Mike Walker
Though dubbed the Scottish Jazz Weekend, the main act on the first evening for me was Norma Winstone, one of England’s top vocalists. And she brought with her two excellent instrumentalists, pianist Kit Downes and guitarist Mike Walker to the intimate venue of the Jazz Bar. Any one of the trio would have been sufficient to get me out on a wet Friday evening, but the prospect of all three was genuinely exciting.
They didn’t disappoint. Downes and Walker were sensitive accompanists. Playing mostly tunes by artists such as Fred Hersch, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor to which Winstone has added words, there was depth and emotion to the music. Winstone’s version of The Peacocks, which she rechristened A Timeless Place, was gently melancholic, a mood also captured by the trio’s exquisite version of Nick Drake’s The Riverman. Her witty words for Steve Swallow’s Ladies in Mercedes and Ralph Towner’s The Prowler brought a touch a levity to the evening. We were treated to some beautiful solos by Downes and Walker, too. All in all, it was a lovely, enthralling performance.
Supporting Winstone’s trio was local vocalist Louise Dodds, with the ever excellent Steve Hamilton on piano. Hamilton said this was only their third show together, but in a short time they have developed a magical charm. They played standards such as Carmen McRae’s version of Monk’s Pannonica, as well as songs written by Dodds, with real flair.
Saturday evening brought two Glasgow bands to the Jazz Bar. The first was Trio TYR, with the unusual line up of trumpet, drums and guitar. The music they made had a minimalist feel, with long trumpet notes provided by Cameron Thomas-Duncan, over abstract soundscapes from Tom Stephenson‘s guitar. This was atmospheric music, moody and occasionally dark, with some heavy riffs from the guitar. At other times, they were gently melodic, Thomas-Duncan barely breathing through his trumpet to add texture. Stephenson also provided some bass lines whilst maintaining the melody. The rhythmic impetus came from Greg Irons‘ drumming, sometimes pushing forward, sometimes joining the abstraction with long rolls.
Harry Weir and Joe Williamson of Modulus
Trio TYR were followed by Modulus, a new project from guitarist Joe Williamson. He explained that he wanted Modulus to be more improvising than his other band Animal Society, and he is joined in Modulus by synthesiser player Craig McMahon, who is also in Animal Society. Mark Scobie was on drums and Harry Weir, usually a fiery tenor player, played bass clarinet. At times Weir used his horn as another rhythm instrument, tonguing the reed to produce pops against the drums’ beats. He also played some raucous solos, particularly one just accompanied by Irons’ lively drumming. Elsewhere the clarinet was used as a low, foghorn drone. Williamson’s guitar was sometimes gently melodic, sometimes a grungy thrash.
Guitars were to the fore again the following evening when Fret played. Modelled on Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, bassist Mario Caribe was joined by Graeme Stephen and Kevin Mackenzie on guitars and an effervescent Alyn Cosker on drums. This was unashamedly happy music: even the pieces that might have been melancholic, such Caribe’s Dead Cat Blues (about his dead cat) or End Beginning, dedicated to his late father, seemed upbeat. Stephen and Mackenzie have contrasting styles and sounds and bounced ideas off each other. Caribe mostly played his upright bass, creating a soulful groove on Sonny Rollins’ No Moe, and he was positively funky on his own Bass Song. He switched to electric bass for a rousing version of Ornette Coleman’s Ramblin’, the whole band getting into the groove.
Mario Caribe was back on stage later together with pianist Paul Harrison and Stu Brown on drums, who make up Trio Magico. They’re dedicated to playing music by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti. At times the music was minimalistic, with seemingly simple repetitive piano lines and long, bowed notes from the bass. At others, it had the intensity of a Keith Jarrett improvisation; and at still others, restrained and understated. Over two sets, the musicians delivered emotionally complex and varied tunes, gathered from throughout Gismonti’s long and continuing career. Harrison’s arrangements were accessible and entertaining, and allowed all three musicians to excel – there was some truly wonderful music.
The weekend was brought to a close by a performance of the Fraser Fifield / Graeme Stephen duo, presented in association with Soundhouse at the Traverse Theatre. Sitting right on the boundary between jazz and folk music, this was a concert that made one question the validity of such genres: much of the material originated in the traditional Scottish music, but even when playing a reel, it seemed absolutely jazz. Fifield played a variety of whistles as well as a curved soprano saxophone and Border pipes. Stephen somehow gets as much variety of sound from his one guitar. Both musicians used loops and pedals to expand their range, creating a real depth to their music. Stephen and Fifield have been playing together for many years, and know each other’s music and style intimately; together they produce some remarkable music.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield