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Recital Room, Glasgow City Halls, 13th October 2009

An odd concert, in that it managed to be simultaneously excellent and disappointing. What disappointed was that there wasn’t enough of Marilyn Crispell, one of the masters of avant-garde jazz piano. This was very much a performance by a Burt-MacDonald Sextet rather than by a Marilyn Crispell group.

This was particularly true of the first half. It opened with a solo piece by Crispell (if it wasn’t based on a Coltrane ballad, it certainly sounded as if it was), and then the rest of the band joined her on stage. She was slightly more prominent in the second set, which opened with a piano and sax duet between her and Raymond MacDonald, followed by a trio piece played by Crispell, George Lyle on bass, and Tom Bancroft on drums. Lyle and Bancroft aren’t quite Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, who were the rhythm section last time Crispell played Glasgow, but they acquitted themselves well.

The Burt-MacDonald Quintet get better every time I hear them. They’ve always gone in for a unique combination of catchy, almost middle-of-the-road, melodies and free improvisation. This had made them one of the most distinctive outfits on the Scottish scene. What they’re now better at is blending the two seamlessly: there was no sense of “that was a tune, now here’s a noisy bit”, for the two elements of their style came together seamlessly. Nicola MacDonald mainly played melodica, only singing on a couple of pieces. George Burt, playing a Les Paul style electric guitar, somehow always looks as if he’s about to launch into a power chord and start duck-walking across the stage, but never does.

Overall, a very enjoyable evening, although I was disappointed that Marilyn Crispell wasn’t featured more. It’s nine or ten years since she last played Glasgow. Let’s it hope it’s not as long before she returns.

A couple of final observations: there seemed to be a much higher proportion of women in the audience than is normal for Glasgow jazz gigs. Is there an untapped female audience for free improvisation, or do female musicians attract female listeners? And in his introduction to the set, Todd Gordon announced that it was being recorded. An album to look forward to.

Update, 15th October

Rob Adams reviewed it for the Herald.