Feature/Interview

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra releases new video with Kurt Elling

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra releases its third video “single” since the Covid-19 pandemic began with a previously unavailable performance featuring top vocalist Kurt Elling, writes Rob Adams.

“Jeep on 35°” is a composition by triple Grammy Award-winning guitarist John Scofield, which first appeared on Scofield’s A Go Go album, recorded with groove specialists Medeski Martin and Wood in 1998.

Arranged for the SNJO by Elling’s fellow Chicagoan, pianist Jim McNeely, it was chosen to represent Courage in a song cycle that Elling and SNJO director, saxophonist Tommy Smith put together under the title of Syntopicon.

“The idea was to bring human traits and values including knowledge and wisdom, good and evil, language and joy to musical life,” says Smith. “We selected a wide variety of songs, some of which already had lyrics, including Paul Simon’s American Tune and Somewhere, from West Side Story, and others that Kurt put lyrics to or commissioned writers to provide words for.” The Kent-based musical activist and 21st century minstrel, Nina Clark wrote a vocalese to Scofield’s bluesy melody, and Elling brings his huge personality and masterly range of rich vocal tones and agile phrasing to the performance, which was recorded at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow during a three date tour of Scotland in 2014.

At the time of the concert, Elling and the SNJO had already toured Scotland three years previously. They had also headlined at London Jazz Festival and Jazz Sous les Pommiers in Normandy and recorded together in New York. The resultant familiarity allows Elling to be, at once, the star singer and one of the band, revelling in both an exchange of sophisticated, creative improvisations and a fiercely committed, bluesy conversation with SNJO director, saxophonist Tommy Smith.

“We collaborated with Kurt again the following year to celebrate Sinatra’s centenary and on a dynamic choral project entitled Spirit of Light in 2017, and he always delivers, as you would expect from an artist who is widely regarded as the world’s top jazz vocalist,” says Smith. “Jeep on 35° is prime Kurt Elling and the orchestra was on great form that night too.”

Courage: Jeep on 35° follows two recent videos released by the SNJO, vibraphonist Joe Locke’s special arrangement of Sam Cooke’s civil rights era classic A Change is Gonna Come, with musicians from New York, San Francisco, London and Scotland, and Free Your Mind, a showcase for Texas-born rising vocal star Jazzmeia Horn.

“With no concerts by the orchestra due to take place until April 2021, we felt that we had to do something to keep in touch with our audience,” says Smith. “Getting the orchestra together to rehearse and record right now is impossible, so we’re fortunate that we have an extensive archive of live recordings that we can draw on. Releasing them this way – they’re free to view – allows us to contact our database and give them genuine news when, otherwise, all we would have to tell them about is postponements. The feedback has been good and we already have other candidates in the pipeline.”

LINK: SNJO YouTube Channel

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