Norman Willmore – Alive & Well at The Muckle Roe Hall
(Available as a download or LP from Bandcamp (link below). Album Review by Patrick Hadfield)
Not quite but almost as far north as you can go in the British Isles is Muckle Roe. Famously nearer Norway than Edinburgh, Shetland is a long way off the the beaten track for most jazz bands, and whilst national orchestras might make it to Lerwick, I imagine few get as far as Muckle Roe. Still, saxophonist Norman Willmore is a local, and that is where he took his band to make this live recording.
The compere felt the need to instruct the audience on the etiquette for jazz gigs as he introduces the band – “give it laldy!” – though I doubt they needed much direction given the energy and excitement this exuberant quartet generate. Gigs in such places always have a special atmosphere, and this recording captures the mood: opening with a pipe-like pibroch from Willmore’s alto which becomes increasingly free until it breaks down into a full jazz-jig, the band deliver a dose of ceilidh culture that would be right at home in any highland community. The quartet blow up a storm of vigorous energy to match the westerlies blowing in off the north Atlantic.
But Willmore, Christos Stylianides on trumpet, Sam Ingvorsen, bass, and Felix Ambach, drums, have the chops and imagination to bring together a rich blend of Nordic influences, Scots traditional music, Appalachian tunes with a full-on jazzsensibility.
There are quieter, more introspective moments, too, such as the slow, mournful ballad Sip Sorrow From The Cup and Ingvorsen’s solo on Jack O’ Diamonds. That tune segues into the exhilerating closing track, Red Prairie Dawn.
There are risks with gigging in such remote island. Stuck in Shetland for five days when bad weather stopped the ferries sailing, Willmore and the band stayed on at Muckle Roe community hall and recorded some extra tracks for those who had joined in the crowdfunder making this project possible. Which makes me wish I had bought into this project when I had opportunity! Still, once gigs are safe again, let’s hope we may get to see the band play live – albeit somewhere more accessible for most then Muckle Roe!