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John Scofield and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

RSAMD, 6th March 2010

One of the reasons John Scofield’s Blue Note albums with Joe Lovano were so successful was the strength of Scofield’s compositions. This came across strongly during Saturday night’s concert by Scofield and the SNJO, where just under half the material was drawn from those records. His tunes were catchy and, despite the loud distorted guitar-based sound of the originals, steeped in the blues and bebop tradition. As a result, they generally transferred to big band arrangements much more successfully than the Miles Davis material which made up the other half of the concert. The Davis pieces relied more on basic snatches of melody over rhythmic vamps, and didn’t seem to offer the arrangers as much to get their teeth into – in fact, for long stretches, they often turned into small group pieces, with the full orchestra only playing at the beginning and end of the number.

John Scofield himself was the main soloist, and he’s a very fine player indeed, combining a fine melodic and harmonic sense with an earthy guitar sound and lots of bluesy string-bending. Tommy Smith (who played a lot of flute as well as his usual tenor) was the main soloist from within the SNJO, but Alyn Cosker, Paul Towndrow, Ryan Quigley, Konrad Wiszniewski and Steve Hamilton all got their own turn in the spotlight. Lorna McDonald played an important ensemble role on tuba, although she didn’t solo.

Each of the ten pieces the band played was arranged by somebody different: I’d single out Christian Jacob’s “Wabash the Third”, Mike Gibb’s “Groove Elation” and Makoto Ozone’s “Jean Pierre” (which at one point featured a tenor duel between Smith and Wiszniewski over funky wah-wah guitar) as the pick of the bunch, and give an honourable mention to Paul Harrison for what I think was his first-ever big band arrangement.

I suspect this will be on my list of gigs of the year come December. Now, any chance of getting them into the studio and getting some of this material down on CD?

Their Edinburgh concert got a very positive write-up in the Herald. John Scofield Herald review.

Graeme Stephen Sextet with Ben Davies

Recital Room, 7th March 2010

Two guitarist-led concerts in two days. It was almost inevitable that this one would come off second-best, but there was still lots of fine music in it.

Graeme Stephen led an outfit with an unusual line-up and sound: drums (Stu Ritchie), bass (Mario CaribĂ©), cello (Ben Davies), fiddle (Chris Stout), tenor sax (Phil Bancroft) and soprano sax plus whistles (Fraser Fifield). Unlike, say, Colin Steele’s Stramash, this wasn’t a mixture of jazz and folk, but a music which took elements from each and combined them to make something different. At times, the use of pentatonic scales gave the music an Eastern European feel; at others, the delicate chamber-music like textures made it sound like music from some sensitive European art-house film. I thought they didn’t always quite manage to seamlessly blend the more arranged passages with the sections of looser blowing (mainly from Phil Bancroft or Graeme Stephen himself), but that’s a fairly minor quibble. I hope Graeme Stephen manages to keep this band together, as there was plenty of fresh, original music here.

Once again, it was the Edinburgh concert (with, I think, Martin Kershaw on sax rather than Fraser Fifield) which got reviewed in the Herald. Graeme Stephen Herald review.