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Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall (Concert to mark 25 years of the orchestra)

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (Streamed from Perth Concert Hall on 5 December 2020. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The SNJO at Perth Concert Hall. Screenshot

For any band to keep going for twenty five years is impressive; for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, it is clearly a reason to celebrate. The restrictions in place in Scotland to counter the pandemic meant that they couldn’t celebrate with an audience, but this beautifully produced livestream must run a close second. The sound recording was impeccable, bringing the lush tones of the big band to life. Stretched out across the stage of Perth Concert Hall – another compromise forced by the need to be covid-compliant, as the band’s director Tommy Smith explained – they managed to come together and swing. After twenty five years, they have built up a rich repertoire of classic compositions as well as tune written or arranged specifically them, and this show presented both familiar favourites and comparatively new tunes.


From the opening notes of Duke Ellington’s Black And Tan Fantasy, with Liam Shortall‘s growling trombone and Tom MacNiven‘s crying trumpet (which MacNiven followed with a searing solo), through Neal Hefti’s Midnight Blue (originally written for another of jazz aristocracy, Count Basie), and Alyn Cosker‘s storming arrangement of Love For Sale in recognition of the influence of Buddy Rich, the band played with passion and drive. Most of the tunes were up tempo numbers, though they demonstrated their softer side on the beautiful Epilogue from Bobby Wellins’ Culloden Moor Suite, which the SNJO recorded with Wellins a few years ago: Pete Johnstone‘s haunting piano introduction, followed by Anoushka Nanguy‘s moody trombone solo, created a remarkable atmosphere. But in a band chock-full of excellent soloists, it almost seems churlish to highlight particular musicians, as Smith highlighted in short chats between the tunes, delving into the band’s experiences and influences. The premise of the concert was “Jazz: Past, Present, Future” – the past and present were clearly represented in the repertoire and the concert itself. Maybe it was the musicians themselves who stand in for the future: despite its age, this is a young band, featuring several young musicians, some who a still studying, together with others who have been active for rather longer. In the their hands, the future looks pretty secure. Full line up: Saxophones and Woodwind: Martin Kershaw, Paul Towndrow, Tommy Smith, Konrad Wisniewski, Bill Fleming Trumpets: Jim Davison, Sean Gibbs, Tom MacNiven, Lorne Cowieson Trombones: Kieran McLeod, Liam Shortall, Anoushka Nanguy, Michael Owers Piano: Pete Johnstone Bass: Calum Gourlay Drums: Alyn Cosker Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield. LINK: The streamed concert is available to view until 4 January 2021.

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