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Beauty and the Beast: A Fabulous new CD Review

added on 11 February, 2017 | under Beauty And The Beast, Blog

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

Available through SNJO website or via Spartacus Records

Musicians:
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).

Beauty and the Beast: A CD Review

added on 26 January, 2017 | under Beauty And The Beast, Blog
SNJO Beauty And The Beast with Bill Evans

“…a magnificent achievement by all concerned.”

Part 1: After a Kentonesque intro (had Kenton still been around) Bill Evans, who isn’t a reincarnated pianist nor an aka Yusef Lateef, erupts on soprano. This is definitely the Beast.
Part 2: A change from major to minor mood suggests that the beast is eying up a young lady who has entered his castle. The mood now is Ellington/Mingus and Evans is both Beauty and Beast as the scene changes.
Even if this had been called Fish and Chips it would still have been one magnificent piece of writing – and playing. Oh dear, I think the young woman is in turmoil – where is daddy?
Part 3: Steve Hamilton brings this one in. Building tension. Is beauty running around trying to escape or is she fighting an attraction for the beast who is now blowing tenor? He’s coming on strong. This is wilder than Kenton ever dreamed of – makes City of Glass sound like Mantovani!
Part 4: Tenor blows a cadenza then, once again the minor key. Something big going down here. There’s a Disney movie doing the rounds but the soundtrack couldn’t be any more atmospheric than this! Wild tenor playing? Melodic interlude, is this love or lust?
Part 5: Gentle. Beauty, reflects on her status, is she in love with the Beast?  The soprano playing suggests she might be.
Part 6: The arranging, as throughout is perfection. Think Stan Getz’s Focus with Eddie Sauter. Evans and Smith are well up for it, maybe even surpassing it. The tenor playing is wild, has the Beast gone crazy? Has love driven him over the edge? He wouldn’t be the first!
Part 7: A melancholy opening, soprano in a romantic mood but, [me] having, belatedly, read the fairy tale (I should have done that first) perhaps it’s the discovery that the Beast appears to have died of a broken heart due to the object of his affection being late in returning to the castle – aren’t they always? Soprano runs the changes like a woman frantic at her loss taking it out on his pet dragon. She didn’t care that the Beast was ugly – she’d seen beyond that and loved him for his inner self. She cries and that tear lands on his cheek and he is alive again and they both live happily ever after!
This is, perhaps, the ultimate jazz concerto. The composing, the arranging, the rehearsing – the time even these top guys must have spent getting it right must have been awesome. Tommy Smith and his clan presented Evans with a put up or shut up challenge. A challenge he accepted and he certainly put up! My only criticism is that I’d rather Smith had given each movement a title rather than Parts 1 – 7. That way I wouldn’t have had to put my totally wrong take on the portrayal. That aside, a magnificent achievement by all concerned.
The CD was released in October 2016 and, if Jazz Journal had invited me to take part in their annual Critics Poll it would have been high on the list.

Available through SNJO website or via Spartacus Records

Review by Lance Liddle: Bebop spoken here

Musicians:
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).

A Christmas Festival of Jazz: A Review

added on 20 December, 2016 | under Blog
SNJO Christmas Festival of Jazz

A Christmas Festival of Jazz with the SNJO and TSYJO

They better watch out, better not cry, better not pout because, as the song doesn’t go on to say, the next generation might be after their jobs. There was no sense of anti-climax in the “feeder team” – the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra – following their senior colleagues on the bill of this Christmas special. Indeed, by and large they sounded almost ready to follow in the footsteps of one of the evening’s star performers, trumpeter Sean Gibbs, in moving up to the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.Read more

The Legend of Charlie Parker: Herald Review

added on 16 November, 2016 | under Blog
The Legend of Charlie Parker

Preservation and renewal were at the heart of this excellent celebration of one of jazz’s major pioneering figures. In the sixty-one years since his death, many have sought to capture Charlie Parker’s spirit. His tunes are still rites of passage for jazz players, and not just for those who take up his chosen instrument, the alto saxophone.

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The Legend of Charlie Parker: Scotsman Review

added on 15 November, 2016 | under Blog
Charlie Parker

The past few years have seen the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra consolidate their international status and eclectically adventurous repertoire, having their sweet way with a Mozart piano, deconstructing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, collaborating fruitfully with American singers and Scandinavian bassists and, just this month, releasing yet another live concert album, this time recorded with US jazz-fusion saxophone hero Bill Evans. As they approach the end of their 20th anniversary year, this weekend past, however, saw them celebrating the legacy of one of modern jazz’s greatest game-changers in The Legend of Charlie Parker

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The Jazz Legacy of Charles Mingus: A 5* Review

added on 16 October, 2016 | under Blog
Arild Andersen

Of all the many hours of music that the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra has played and shared over the past twenty-one years it’s the ensemble’s affinity with Charles Mingus that’s the most striking. The orchestra celebrated this most characterful of jazzmen’s work in the early years of this century with a firecracker of a concert and here it was again, with its distinguished guest, Norwegian double bass master Arild Andersen, metaphorically brawling, reeling and positively rocking in rhythm ’n’ hymns.Read more

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'The SNJO deserved all the praise Kurt Elling so graciously lavished on them.'

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