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Griffin Bar, Elmbank Street. June 8th, 2010

A new band in a new venue.

Each member of the group – Euan Burton, Steve Hamilton, James Maddren, Mark McKnight and Will Vinson – has worked with most of the others over the years, but as far as I know this was the first time they’d all performed together as a quintet. Burton had put the band together to perform a suite of music he had got funding to write from the Scottish Arts Council. It’s odd how it seems to be easier to get public funding if you’re composing a suite rather than just a bunch of tunes. The pieces he came up with were predominantly pastoral, with a few fierier sections.

The band as a whole were very impressive. Guitarist McKnight and altoist Vinson are both players with particularly attractive sounds. Steve Hamilton was playing electric piano – I’m not sure if this was through choice or simply because there was no piano in the room – and managed to get it to sound like an instrument in its own right, not merely a poor substitute for a “proper” piano. That’s a gift not many players have. Drummer James Maddren has an excellent sense of dynamics: he didn’t just keep time, he helped shape the mood of the music. At one point he played a inventive cymbals-only solo which acted as a segue between two pieces. Burton himself was the least prominent of the musicians, concentrating on playing interesting bass lines rather than trying to dominate the music. That’s not a criticism, by the way.

The quintet were going into the studio the next day to record this music for an album. It’s due out in about six months, and going by this live performance will be one to watch out for.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time the Griffin has put on a jazz concert. I thought it was a decent venue. The gig was held in the room normally used for lunches, which is at ground level, with its own entrance onto Elmbank Street. There’s a bar along one side, and although there was a slight hum from the refrigeration, it was pretty quiet when the band was playing. The place was busy, but the predominantly young audience were all there to hear the music, not to chat to their friends. I thought the sound was pretty good. The drums in particular sounded really crisp and clear without being overbearingly loud. The main problem, as I’ve said above, is that there isn’t a piano. But it’s still a welcome addition to Glasgow’s jazz venues.

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