(Three concerts in Edinburgh. July 2022. Live Reviews by Patrick Hadfield)
Trumpeter and, for these gigs at least, cornetist Laura Jurd made her first trip to the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, and having got here made the most of the trip, appearing in three concerts across three days in three very different settings.
Her own band Dinosaur, a quartet with Elliot Galvin on piano, Corrie Dick on drums and Conor Chaplin on bass brought their own eclectic vision. Playing tunes mostly from their latest acclaimed album To The Earth as well as pieces from throughout Jurd’s recording career, they took the opportunity to extend the material beyond the confines of their records.
Their inventiveness shone as they explored new avenues. Their technical skill brought a confidence to their music, which was full of wit without diminishing its purpose. There was a spaciousness to their playing that allowed the music to stretch and breathe, bringing it to life.
Each of the musicians brought their skill to the fore. Happy Sad Song featured an extended piano improvisation from Galvin that had a serious, almost classical air to it; at other times, his playing sparkled with humour as he plucked the piano’s strings or hit its frame for percussive effect. Dick’s own contribution to the percussion was deft, full of action but never seeming over-busy. Chaplin’s bass was wonderfully assured, balancing the others’ solos and keeping the music centred.
Jurd’s cornet playing was sparkling. Full of dynamics without showing off, it was almost understated, as if Jurd was saying just enough to get the point across. Her playing brought to mind the great Tomas Stanko, with the addition of some Miles Davis-like runs.
Dinosaur’s set was exciting and exuberant, reminding one that whatever their success with recordings, it’s as a live band that they really come into their own.
Jurd joined Edinburgh jazz institution Playtime for an extended set of entirely improvised music. The Playtime quartet regularly perform wholly improvised music. Jurd had joined them for an online performance during lockdown, but this was the first time she’d shared a stage with them. Improvised music sometimes gets a bad press, but this set was full of accessible, melodic music, perhaps reflecting the musicians’ skills as composers.
There were periods of freedom, but between them, bassist Mario Caribe and Tom Bancroft on drums developed sections with a powerful, swinging groove. There were also moments of quiet reflection, notably from some lovely alto playing by Martin Kershaw; he also contributed some truly beautiful soprano. Guitarist Graeme Stephen added depth and texture, at one point playing some truly dramatic dark chords that were full of foreboding.
The music seemed to flow from one musician to another without pause for an hour, almost as if they were passing a baton. They drew the piece to a close and then filled their remaining time with a lively and very enjoyable blues. Watching improvisers create is always fascinating, and the quintet of musicians made this set something special – literally a once in a lifetime event.
In contrast, Fergus McCreadie’s Large Ensemble was a highly structured work, though no less exciting for that. Laura Jurd joined McCreadie’s long standing trio with drummer Stephen Henderson and bassist David Bowden, with whom she has appeared previously at the Islay Jazz Festival, together an additional drummer, Graham Costello, and three saxophones – Matt Carmichael and Harry Weir on tenors and Norman Willmore on alto. A special commission by Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, the as yet unnamed suite was a remarkable achievement.
McCreadie’s folk-infused themes ebb and flow, the frontline horns playing in unison or passing the tune between them; they were clearly listening hard to each others’ playing, their frequent smiles demonstrating how much they were enjoying their musical company. The different styles of the three saxophonists were brought to the fore – Weir’s raw, visceral approach contrasting with Carmichael’s gentler, more romantic tone, and both Willmore’s and Carmichael’s solos featured traditional motifs.
Aside from his one previous show with Jurd, McCreadie has played with the other musicians many times in various bands, and his writing plays to their strengths. But it is probably the first time that Henderson and Costello have performed together; they were set up on the stage facing each other, at times mirroring each others’ rhythms and at others striking off in rhythmic tangents. McCreadie had included some percussive interludes which brought their playing to the fore.
Jurd contributed several solos, as did all members of the ensemble. Impressive as those were, the whole was much greater than the sum of the parts, the suite emphatically touching one’s emotions.
Laura Jurd’s performances with Dinosaur and Fergus McCreadie Large Ensemble can been seen with EJBF Online Pass until 14 August 2022.