The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra stopped off at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh tonight as part of an all too short performance schedule performing “Sketches of Spain” and “Porgy & Bess”. These two visionary collaborations between Miles Davis and Gil Evans marked a watershed point in the critics’ and public’s perception of Jazz as a musical form and both remain as fresh and vibrant now as when they were originally recorded nearly 60 years ago.
The SNJO covered both albums with Gerard Presencer early in its history. This time around, the now internationally celebrated orchestra features another guest trumpeter, plus a stalwart of their own, with Sketches being fronted by the acclaimed young player Laura Jurd, currently a BBC New Generation Artist, while Porgy and Bess turns the spotlight full on the SNJO’s longest-standing member (along with founder-director Tommy Smith), Tom MacNiven.
A great CD Review from Dan McClenaghan for All About jazz
The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, playing the songs of Mancini and Mandel featuring Joe Locke and Kenny Washington, brought a slice of classic Hollywood film music to The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh for this show.Read more
Kenny Washington used to see Wynton Marsalis around New Orleans and be so awestruck that he didn’t dare go up to the trumpeter and say hello. He wasn’t to know back then that thirty years and more later, the awe would be reciprocal and that when Marsalis restaged his Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio, Blood On the Fields in 2013 there would be only one choice for the part Washington sang. Marsalis has also invited Washington to sing with the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York later this year.
Beauty and the Beast: The SNJO with special guest Bill Evans
“The whole orchestra plays brilliantly,…….well worth the wait.”
From the opening drum salvo and funky bass/ piano, this piece hits you and carries you along in a wave of euphoria. For those who remember Tommy Smith as a lyrical hard-bop sax player, the music here might not come as a surprise. What is, perhaps, surprising is the depth and complexity with which he uses the whole palette available in this jazz orchestra to colour and build the pieces in this suite.The pieces are not named but numbered 1-7. The motivation for the seven pieces here was a meditation on the duality of the human psyche – hence, Beauty and the Beast (although, continuing the Scottish theme, it could as easily have been Jekyll and Hyde). It would have been interesting if the press release (or CD cover) provided a little more background detail on what each piece is about. The pieces range from melancholic to exuberant, but never fail to swing like mad whatever the mood.
The press release states that Smith wrote this suite for David Liebman, and one can see how the nuanced and richly textured pieces could have suited his playing. However, the driving, funky electric bass and pulsing drums pick up pace in a way that is better suited to Bill Evans, who plays out of his skin here.
Each of his solos bursts from the orchestra and pulls the players in all manner of directions.
That the SNJO keep up is to their credit, that they do so with such brio and control is nothing short of astonishing. The whole orchestra plays brilliantly, but special mention should be given to the rhythm section of Cosker, Glasgow and Hamilton who follow Evans’ lead and really force the pace.
Recorded live, the whole set has the feel of a well maintained machine that is being driven with reckless abandon. It has taken five years from performance to release but it has been well worth the wait.
Reviewed by Chris Baber for Jazzviews
Ryan Quigley, Ewan Mains, Lorne Cowieson, Tom McNiven (trumpets); Chris Grieve, Kevin Garrity, Michael Owers, Lorna McDonald (trombones); Martin Kershaw, Paul Towndrow (alto); Tommy Smith, Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor); Bill Fleming (baritone); Steve Hamilton (piano); Kevin Glasgow (bass); Alyn Cosker (drums).