Nominees for Scottish Awards for New Music 2021 Innovation in Jazz Award announced

The fifth annual Scottish Awards for New Music are here, writes Mark Mckergow (*), with nominees announced in thirteen categories including Solo Work, Large Scale New Work, Innovation in New Traditional Music,,,

Nominees clockwise from top left: Liam Shortall, Paul Towndrow Martin Kershaw, Graeme Stephen (publicity photos except Graeme Stephen photo by Patrick Hadfield)

The Scottish Awards for New Music winners will be announced at a ceremony on Wednesday 7 July via the New Music Scotland website. The awards are judged by a twenty-strong panel of musicians, composers, producers and educators from right across the field. The Innovation in Jazz category features high on the list, with three nominees in the running. Trumpet-player and composer Laura Jurd, a member of the panel, says:

“Jazz has always been innovative. From Lester Young’s interpretation of show tunes like ‘Lady Be Good’ to the radical compositional footprints made by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and Ornette Coleman to name a few. The very notion of speaking your own unique language, through improvisation and composition, and doing so in a such a socially collective manner, is what gives jazz its essence.”

The three nominees are corto.alto (Liam Shortall), Deepening The River (Paul Towndrow) and Playtime (Martin Kershaw and Graeme Stephen).  

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corto.alto (Liam Shortall)

Glasgow-based trombonist and producer Liam Shortall’s corto.alto project is a collective affair bringing together top young musicians to produce nu-jazz – all from a flat in Sauchiehall Street. Born and raised in Dumfries, Shortall is a regular with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  His regular collaborators in corto.alto include Mateusz Sobieski on saxophone, Cameron T Duncan (trumpet), James Mackay (guitar), Fergus McCreadie (keys), Peru Eizagirre (drums) and many more, with special featured guests including Harry Weir (tenor saxophone), Soweto Kinch (alto saxophone), Luca Manning (vocals) and Johnny Woodham (trumpet). Starting in 2019, Liam has kept up releases through 2020 which surely deserves a prize for perseverance alone.  The music is really ear-catching with some big production and great arranging belying the modest recording location.  Corto.alto won Best Band and Best Album at the 2020 Scottish Jazz Awards, and the project is brimming with creativity and collective music-making.

Deepening The River (Paul Towndrow)

Paul Towndrow’s ambitious suite for extended big band was premiered at the Glasgow Festival of 2018 and has now been released on CD. The river in the title is the Clyde, and alto saxophonist Towndrow refers both to the continual dredging of the river over the years to allow ships to come and go, and to the cultural connections (for better or worse) established by trade.  The music follows a programmatic triangular voyage to Africa and India, then across the Atlantic to the USA before returning home to Scotland.  The extended line-up includes top traditional Scottish musicians on fiddles and pipes, as well as a significant contribution from tabla player Sodhi whose rippling lines add to the atmosphere. Every member of the 24-strong ensemble gets solo space, with particularly dramatic contributions from Ross Ainslie (pipes and whistles), Laura Wilkie going the full Jean-Luc Ponty on violin,  Tom Walsh on trumpet and Paul Towndrow himself with a powerful and fleet alto saxophone solo on Tontine Heads. This is not only a very fine hour of music, it also addresses some of the less savoury aspects of Glasgow’s trading past in an accessible and thought-provoking fashion.

Playtime (Martin Kershaw and Graeme Stephen)

Playtime is a musicians collective established by saxophonist Martin Kershaw and guitarist Graeme Stephen in 2014.  The core group expanded to include drummer Tom Bancroft and double bassist Mario Caribe, and they took up residency at The Outhouse in Edinburgh. The arrival of COVID-19 put a stop to these performances, but the group continued to explore how they could play together online in lockdown.  The really remarkable thing is that by experimenting with online platforms they managed to find a way to play live collectively on a video call by embracing the lags and dropouts rather than trying to fight them.  Playtime’s music is strongly improvisational, and the results of these performances show four top musicians really listening and supporting each other even though they are physically miles apart. Special guests have featured strongly in this lockdown period including Paul Harrison (keys), Rachael Cohen (alto sax), Denys Baptiste (tenor saxophone) and Ernst Reijseger (cello). These performances and many more can be seen on the Playtime website.


The winners of the Innovation in Jazz award and all the other categories will be announced at the 2021 Scottish Awards for New Music ceremony on Wednesday 7 July via the New Music Scotland website. Streamed live from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Centre, Glasgow and presented by Tom Service, it will feature a performance by RSNO violist Katherine Wren (the driving force behind Nordic Viola) of Legend, commissioned from Eddie McGuire in 1974 by the late Jimmy Durrant.

(*) Mark McKergow is supporting the New Music Scotland jazz award in 2021. 

LINKS: corto.alto on Bandcamp

Paul Towndrow’s Deepening The River on Bandcamp

Playtime website

New Music Scotland / Scottish Awards for New Music

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