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Glasgow Art Club, Thursday 10 February 2011

Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra play material from a wide range of eras, from Jelly Roll Morton pieces through to ones by Oliver Nelson. There’s almost as wide an age range among the musicians in the band, who in Mathieson’s words can be divided into “the youth squad”, “the seasoned professionals”, and “the over-age White band”. What I found particularly impressive about the octet was the way that it managed to put its own stamp on very varied material, and stay true to the originals without ever sounding like a mere reproduction.

About half the set was made up of Ellingtonia, either written by Duke himself, by Billy Strayhorn or, in one case, “Squatty-Roo”, by Johnny Hodges. In addition to all the Ducal stuff, we got pieces by, among others, Benny Carter, Clark Terry and Buddy Tate, Bob Brookmeyer and Carlos Jobim. And that was just in the first half. One of the more unusual arrangements in the second part was a Jelly Roll Morton tune used as a basis for Gil Evans style modal improvisation. The result didn’t sound like either Morton or Evans but was excellent. At various points in the concert some of the voicings in the slower bluesy numbers were reminders that this three sax, trumpet, trombone and rhythm format was one of Mingus’s favoured line-ups.

There were plenty of fine solos from throughout the band. One of the most impressive players was baritone player Allon Beauviosin, who got more space to show off his abilities as a soloist than he usually does in Brass Jaw, where he’s often restricted to a sort of substitute bass-player role. He also got the chance to play a fair bit of clarinet and bass clarinet. Fellow Brass Jaw member Konrad Wiszniewski was also in the band, and managed the trick of playing solos which fitted in well with the overall idiom of the piece without compromising his own natural style. Much the same could be said of the other soloists, Dick Lee on assorted reeds, trumpeter Billy Hunter, Phil O’Malley on trombone, and pianist Tom Finlay, who I hadn’t heard for years. Bassist Roy Percy didn’t get much solo space, but did a fine job of holding everything together, and got the chance to play a fair bit of slap bass. Ken Mathieson himself played fine drums, did the arrangements, and gave us informative and entertaining introductions to the pieces.

Overall another excellent gig in the Bridge Music’s regular Thursday night series, and one which drew a good-sized crowd. This Thursday it’s the turn of the Alister Spence Trio with Raymond MacDonald.