There will be jazz orchestra concerts that create much bigger musical storms and specifically Scottish National Jazz Orchestra concerts that feature more familiar instrumentation. This one, though, has to go down as particularly special. It was the sort of occasion that illustrates how there’s no substitute for being in the room where and when the music is being played, even when that music features on iconic recordings.
SNJO director Tommy Smith, who cast himself in the unusual role as conductor, had worked on the original scores of Gil Evans’s arrangements of Sketches of Spain and Porgy & Bess and expanded the woodwind section, and the result was gorgeously defined, beautifully dynamic settings for the soloists, trumpeters Laura Jurd and Tom MacNiven, who were filling Miles Davis’s shoes.
These are entirely different players and yet they both managed to inhabit the Miles zone while bringing their own personalities to the music. Jurd was measured, playing themes with delicate poise and improvising with a relaxed certainty as an ensemble including French horns, oboe, bassoon, trumpets and trombone produced light, pastel colours and swelled with immaculate pacing on Sketches’ lovely Saeta.
MacNiven, meanwhile is a SNJO treasure, next to Smith its longest serving player. Usually to be found in the trumpet section or introducing an element of mischief into the soloing order, in Porgy & Bess he was the trumpet playing equivalent of an understated star tenor in an opera. His flugelhorn brought soulful weight to the more solemn melodies and his muted trumpet take on Here Come De Honey Man, particularly, demonstrated his mastery at producing jazz with an unquenchable inner gleam.
Review by Rob Adams for the Glasgow Herald – 2nd May 2017