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Recital Room, City Halls. 19th December 2009

This was billed as a special Christmas concert, but despite being topped and tailed by a couple of seasonal tunes, turned out to be pretty much a straightforward modern jazz performance. Konrad Wiszniewski and band opened with “Let it Snow” and finished with “The Christmas Song” (“chestnuts toasting on an open fire” – that Christmas Song), both of which worked surprisingly well as post-bop jazz, and Michael Janisch managed to work some quotes from “The First Nowell” into one of his solos, but that was it for the Christmas stuff.

I’ve been a fan of Konrad Wiszniewski’s playing since I first heard him, and he didn’t disappoint here. One of the things that got me into jazz in the first place was the sound of the tenor saxophone (it just took the opening few notes of “A Love Supreme” and I was hooked), and Wiszniewski gets a lovely full rich tone from his instrument. He can do the fast flashy stuff when he wants to, but in general he’s got a more melodic conception: he can, as Lester Young once put it, sing you a song. He also writes a better than average tune. All the material, with the exception of the two Christmas pieces, were his compositions. Some came from his debut album, some from the Brass Jaw repertoire, and some were newish and unrecorded.

The long first set featured a quartet of Wiszniewski, Paul Harrison, Michael Janisch and Stu Ritchie. Since I last saw him, Paul Harrison has grown his hair and grown a beard. Combined with his red plaid shirt, these made him look like a scholarly refugee from a grunge band. His piano playing was up to his normal high standard. Michael Janisch on bass didn’t impose himself on the music as much as I’ve heard him do in other bands, but contented himself with providing solid support for the other musicians. Stu Ritchie’s drumming was one of the highlights of the show. His playing was crisp and clean, and no matter how loudly he was playing there was never any sense of him drowning out the rest of the band. He played a couple of fine solos which built up from nothing to a tumult of drums while always making good musical sense. I thought his performance in general was a fine demonstration of how to get a wide range of sounds out of a small drumkit.

In the second set the band transformed itself into a quintet with the addition of trumpeter Ryan Quigley. I occasionally thought there was an imbalance between the two horn soloists, with Quigley sounding much the louder of the two, but I think that was largely because where I was sitting the mouth of his trumpet was pointing right at me. Quigley commented on how different some of the Brass Jaw material sounded when performed by a band with a harmony instrument rather than by a horn quartet.

Overall, a very good conclusion to Jazz International’s Winter 2009 season, and pleasingly close to a full house despite the snowy weather. This was one of the few Recital Room gigs I’ve been at in the last few months where the seats have been set out in theatre-style rows rather than cafe-style seating round tables. I think the interview with Konrad in this week’s Herald might have helped, as some of the folk there weren’t the usual jazz audience. At the interval I was briefly speaking to a woman who was apparently his first clarinet teacher when he was still at school. I think it was her I’d earlier overheard describe him as “the most famous person ever to come out of Abronhill”! Rob Adams gave the show a 4-star review in the Herald, but it doesn’t seem to be available online.

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