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Martin Zenker Quartet

Glasgow Art Club, 24th February 2011

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few years about whether there’s a specifically European jazz aesthetic. Stuart Nicholson‘s even built a career on it. Well, anyone searching for evidence of a distinctly German style of jazz wouldn’t have found it in the Martin Zenker Quartet’s gig at Glasgow Art Club on Thursday night. This was straightahead contemporary jazz – American-style jazz if you like – but it was jazz of a very high standard indeed.

All four members of the group were very fine players, although it was Zenker himself and saxophonist Stefan Maus who grabbed most of my attention. Zenker played some good solos but largely concentrated on the basic bass-playing duties of laying down a strong rhythmic and harmonic foundation for the rest of the band to work off. He also wrote all the material, and while none of the tunes are likely to displace “Round Midnight” or “Footprints” from the repertoire, they were all memorable enough on the night: he came across as a much better than average writer.

Stefan Maus was an excellent tenor player with a good rich tone, and gave the impression of someone confident enough in their own technique not to have to prove how fast or high he could play. He played soprano on three numbers and flute on one, but while he was more than competent on those two horns his playing on them didn’t have as much personality as his tenor work.

Pianist Buggy Braune and drummer Björn Lücker were also very good, but Zenker and Maus were the two who made the most impression on me

At one point Zenker commented on how good a room it was to play in. He’s not the first performer to do so: the Gallery space at the Glasgow Art Club seems to be a venue that musicians enjoy performing in.

It’s been said, I forget by whom, that there are two ways of achieving greatness in the Arts: by doing a thing before everyone else or by doing it better than everyone else. This concert was an example of that second type of excellence. The Martin Zenker Quartet did nothing particularly new or original; but what they did do they did very well indeed.

Strathclyde University Jazz Ensemble III

Recital Room, City Halls, Tuesday 22nd February 2011

If I caught what musical director Stewart Forbes was saying correctly, this band – the University of Strathclyde BA Applied Music Jazz Majors III to give them their Sunday name – was one of four ensembles made up of jazz students currently studying at Strathclyde, not one made up of third-year students. Certainly they looked as if there was a variety of ages among the players, from people who were still definitely teenagers to young adults.

It was an unusual line-up: a nonet with two alto players (but no tenor player) and a tuba. There were eleven musicians involved in all, with two drummers swapping in and out, and with some pieces using a double bass player and others using a bass guitarist. In fact, there were twelve, as Forbes himself took a solo on one piece. The students came from places as far apart as Dumfries, Stornoway and Japan. Two of them were female.

The players were all highly competent – some I thought were ready to go out and play gigs now, while others were still at the promising student stage. The material was all post-bop standards: two Cedar Walton tunes, one each by Pat Metheny and Freddie Hubbard, and “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”.

Full line-up:

  • Paul Devlin, tuba
  • Kyle Irwin, guitar
  • Ryutaro Kikuta, double bass
  • Ewan Laing, drums
  • Alanna McCuaig, piano
  • Jennifer McCallum, alto
  • Craig McMahon, trombone
  • Mark Scobbie, drums
  • Alex Sharples, trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Angus Tikka, bass guitar
  • Rupert Tracy, alto

On this showing, a new generation of jazz musicians is coming up fast. The real challenge is to work out how to develop an audience for them.