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City Halls Recital Room, Tuesday 1 May 2012

Well, the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra might be young, but they don’t exactly play it safe. Tonight’s gig featured some new arrangements by Andy Park (“Unheard Things” was his description of them) which were frequently far removed from mainstream big band orchestrations.

The first three pieces (versions of Steely Dan’s “Night by Night”, The Crusader’s “X Marks the Spot” and Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redento”) were performed by a nine-piece with the slightly unconventional line-up of drums, bass guitar, guitar, two keyboard players (both female), two trumpets and two saxes. After that, a trombonist, another saxophonist and a tuba player joined for the remainder of the hour.

Although the majority of the band were students, it did include three established professionals: Chris Wallace on drums, John Burgess on tenor and, when it came to the larger group, Konrad Wiszniewski on soprano. John Burgess must be one of the most versatile reed players around: he seems equally at ease playing vintage jazz with the Nova Scotia Jazz Band, free improvisation with GIO and the sort of big-toned post-bop contemporary jazz he was delivering here.

Unfortunately I didn’t catch the names of any of the youngsters other than Gus Stirrat on bass. They were all very good, particularly the guitarist.

Andy Park’s arrangements all had something which lifted them out of the ordinary. “Cristo Redentor”, for instance, ended with an eerie coda for piano, tenor and soprano which contrasted strongly with the full band music which had gone before; there was imaginative use of the tuba in a couple of original pieces which had started life as part of the soundtrack to a documentary about Cumbernauld; and one of the highlights of the evening was a dark reworking of “My Foolish Heart” inspired by the fact that the lyrics are full of phrases like “beware” and “take care”. Towards the end of the set, SYJO director Stewart Forbes came on to play an alto feature on an unusually fast version of John Lewis’s “Django” on which one of the keyboard players switched her keyboard into vibraphone mode for an unexpected echo of the MJQ.

Congratulations are due to whoever it was who thought of pairing Andy Park up with SYJO. While there was the odd wee stumble here and there, this was an evening of fresh-sounding new music which deserves more than one performance. Do any festival promoters want to take a chance and put them on over the summer?