Livestream Reviews

SNJO/ Maria Rud – ‘Where Rivers Meet’, Parts 2 +4: Dewey Redman + Albert Ayler

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Maria Rud – Where Rivers Meet: The Music of Dewey Redman and Albert Ayler

(Recorded at St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh on 30 April 2021. Streaming until August 15, tickets available on the SNJO website, link below.  Review by Patrick Hadfield)

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Calum Gourlay and Tommy Smith. Photo credit: Derek Clark

Over a year since live performance shuddered to a halt and, whilst the reopening of venues is within sight, we’ve got used to enjoying concerts mediated through a variety of technologies. Last year marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, but all their plans for a series of celebratory concerts had to be shelved. But necessity has spurred creativity, and on International Jazz Day last month, artistic director Tommy Smith took the band into the medieval surroundings of Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral to record four sets of music by four highly influential and innovative saxophonists – Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler.

They were joined visual artist Maria Rud, who projected her work onto the large gothic window of the cathedral as she improvised figurative and abstact images along with the band, adding another dimension to the performance.

Each set comprised three tunes – two by the stream’s subject and a standard with which they were associated. I’m unfamiliar with the music of both Redman and Ayler, but the arrangements by SNJO altoist Paul Towndrow and a regular arranger for the band, Geoffrey Keezer, respectively, were accessible and swinging, making the best of this excellent band.

Konrad  Wiszniewski. Photo credit Derek Clark

Konrad  Wiszniewski played tenor for the Redman set, and his muscular, emphatic playing was well matched to the pieces. His a cappella solo introducing The Very Thought Of You was beguiling and the piece itself romantic and embracing. The arrangement of Dewey’s Tune was a prime example of big band bounce.

Tommy Smith took on the Ayler pieces, and he demonstrated his formidable talent. On Ayler’s Ghosts, Smith seemed to bring a flavour of highland pipes to his tenor before making it scream. There was a lot of freedom from both Smith and the orchestra within Keezer’s arrangements, particularly from bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Alyn Cosker in a section where they played as a saxophone trio. Pete Johnstone on piano was also on top form.

Rud’s painting was more like an animation illustrating the music. She clearly gained some energy from the band, dancing around the lightbox that acted as her canvas. The images morphed from one form to another, and brought the space of the cathedral into the context of the music, as if her art, the music and the architecture were all part of the performance.

As if to bring the various streams together, the series closed with When The Saints Go Marching In, which was recorded by Ayler on a record of sprituals. Albert Ayler recorded it as a duet with Call Cobbs; in contrast, the SNJO took it back to the source and exuberantly recreated the mood of New Orleans. Introduced by Cosker playing the theme, using his elbow to tune his drums, Smith sat much of the number out as the band took off before he brought proceedings to close.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

LINKS: Streams available from SNJO

Mark McKergow’s review of Parts 1 + 3

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