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Celebrating the Music of ECM

RSAMD, Saturday 16th October 2010

This concert, the latest in a series of collaborations between the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and an international soloist, was slightly late getting underway because of technical problems. If this meant a delayed start, it also meant we had the bonus of an impromptu blues thrown in as a sound check before the band got down to the main business of the evening.

The evening’s programme consisted of a selection of pieces, some well known, some less so, which were all originally recorded for the ECM record label. Each was written by a different composer, and each orchestrated by a different arranger, so that over the course of the evening, we got a wide range of styles. What was particularly impressive, I thought, was the way that the orchestra managed to impose its collective personality on the music, so that despite the variety of approaches it was always recognisably the same band playing. Some compositions, for instance Tommy Smith’s arrangement of Jan Garbarek’s “Molde Canticle” or Trygve Seim’s version of his own “Ulrikas Dans” went for an orchestral approach, blending individual instrumental sounds into a whole, whereas others went for the more conventional big band style, pitting different sections of the band against each other.

Andersen himself was the main soloist, occasionally augmenting his sound with electronics, as for instance at the start of his own Hyperborean – Independency IV medley, where he sampled and looped then soloed over his own arco playing to give the impression of a string orchestra. Generally I’m a member of the “the drums must never stop” tendency when it comes to the prospect of a bass solo, but Andersen always held the attention. Calum Gourlay was in the band on second bass, but didn’t have much to do, except for the occasional second bass line to anchor Andersen’s soloing. Tommy Smith and Steve Hamilton were the other main soloists, with Ryan Quigley and Chris Greive getting one outing each.

Andersen also told an amusing story about working with Keith Jarrett: they were in the booth, listening to a playback of a performance in which Jarrett had indulged in his characteristic humming and groaning along to the music, and Jarrett proceeded to hum and groan along with the recording, reproducing his initial vocal noises perfectly.

Complete set list for the anoraks:

  • Jan Garbarek, Molde Canticle, arr. Tommy Smith
  • John Abercrombie*, Ralph’s Piano Waltz, arr. Manu Pekar
  • Trygve Seim, Ulrikas Dans, arr. Seim
  • Dave Holland, May Dance, arr. Christian Jacob
  • Charlie Haden, Silence, arr. Fred Sturm
  • Hyperborean & Independency IV, Arild Andersen, arr. Mike Gibbs
  • Kenny Wheeler, Heyoke, arr. Florian Ross
  • Chick Corea, Crystal Silence, arr. Makoto Ozone
  • Pat Metheny, Bright Size Life, arr. Ryan Quigley
  • Keith Jarrett, My Song, arr. Geoffrey Keeze

Rob Adam’s review of the Edinburgh concert mentions that ECM are interested in hearing tapes of the concerts with a view to releasing some of the music on CD.

*Anyone else remember the John Abercrombie – Ralph Towner gig at the Moir Hall where there was a punch-up in the audience because some people wouldn’t stop talking? Glasgow – where even the fans of sensitive acoustic jazz are hard.

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