Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – “Live At 25” in Edinburgh – News, reviews, articles and commentary from the London jazz scene and beyond
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – Live at 25
(Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. September 24, 2021. Live review by Patrick Hadfield)
Tommy smith has clearly counted the days since the SNJO last performed in front of an audience – 635 of them, he calculated. And the band seemed just as happy as the socially distant audience to finally be back at Queen’s Hall.
In the meantime, the group has had several online-only shows, including a performance last December marking their 25th anniversary that included many tracks played last Friday. Keeping a band going for that long is a feat, but for a large band it’s another thing, and it just feels right to celebrate with a live audience. The staff changes quite naturally: this show saw Andrew Robb on bass, Marc Rossignol with a trombone, and Helene kay join the group on the viola.
After their forced break, the group started off slow, building up a head of steam leading up to Ellington’s Daylight Express, one of the Duke’s many arias celebrating the joys of train tours, with trumpets and reeds simulating whistles as the rhythm section picks up speed. Once they got up to speed, the well-oiled machine that is the SNJO propelled a whirlwind tour of jazz history during the first half of the concert. At Daylight Express and Fancy / Creole black and tan love call that followed him, the band established their credentials with a swing ability that was a joy to hear.
Some of the pieces were small group numbers arranged for the large group, and credit goes to the arrangers whose work made this so natural. Kieran McLeod’s Arrangement of the All too Familiar If I were a bell was witty and energetic, full of powerful and dynamic punctuation. Likewise, the arrangement of Christian Jacobs by Joe Zawinul Young and fine, featuring Smith on tenor, made full use of the band, with Robb highlighting his skills on bass.
Things were slowed down for the haunting Bobby Wellins Culloden Moor Suite, Epilogue, with Anoushka Nanguyof the paperclip. The change of pace accentuated the contrast with what had come before and marked a highlight in the first set.
The focus was on saxophones in the second set as the SNJO played clips from Where the rivers meet. A large-scale project released in April and newly available for download, it features the work of four influential saxophonists – Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Albert Ayler and Anthony Braxton – and the band performed an extended track associated with each. These four were rooted in the free jazz movement of the early 1960s; the arrangers had their work cut out for them.
The set opened with Smith’s bloated arrangement of Ornette Coleman lonely woman, Kay taking the lead of the alto saxophone. What followed was an intense and heartfelt solo, twisting the blues that Coleman kept just below the surface. Smith himself took center stage for Ayler’s Ghosts, arranged by Geoff Keezer. After a long, passionate free introduction full of screams and horns, the piece resolved into a powerful and witty bluesy, ending with an excerpt from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”).
Konrad Wiszniewski took the helm for Dewey Redman’s Dewey’s melody, and Martin kershaw ahead of Anthony Braxton’s Composition 40M, which arranger Paul Harrison had turned into another blues-dripping track. With the saxophones in the spotlight, the rest of the orchestra was brought in for depth, texture and dynamics, but otherwise got to take a break – except for the superlative rhythm section which maintained its support. energetic throughout. For long stretches this was indeed an intensive saxophone trio like Robb and Alyn Cosker on drums pushed the soloists. Things calmed down a notch for the sweet closing number, the beautiful arrangement of Keezer by Robert Burns My love is like a red rose red.
It was a good and exciting return to the live performance of the SNJO, which has plans for a range of shows over the next few months.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, sometimes takes pictures and sometimes blogs on On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield