THE Scottish National Jazz Orchestra is making a habit of championing under-sung heroes. Firstly, with its reworking of Bobby Wellins’ long neglected Culloden Moor Suite and now with this piece, which SNJO director Tommy Smith commissioned from the great British-Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, the orchestra has paid tribute to two musician-composers, neither of whom would have thought about pushing himself to the front of any queues but who both made music of sometimes quiet but notably marked strength and originality.
Sweet Sister Suite perfectly captures Wheeler’s musical personality. Without trying to sound like their predecessors, featured soloists, trumpeter-flugelhorn player Laura Jurd and vocalist Irini Arabatzi convey the spirit of Wheeler and Norma Winstone while the orchestra reels and roams through variously stormy, hypnotic, swinging and gloriously tumbling passages of beautiful writing.
The lovely, murmuring Keeper of the Light and the gently insistent Worlds Apart grow in assertiveness and inspire fine solos from Smith and pianist Peter Johnstone and there are superb improvisations also from Paul Towndrow (alto), Martin Kershaw (soprano) and Jurd, especially as she trades phrases with guitarist Rob Luft on Wondering Dream. A marvellous addition to SNJO’s growing catalogue.
by ROB ADAMS
The Herald: 30th June 2018