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City Halls Recital Room, Saturday 30 June (afternoon)

Tom MacNiven and Phil O’Malley are well established on the Scottish scene as sidemen and big band members, but this is one of the few times I’ve seen either of them lead a band. Indeed, I think it might be the first time I’ve seen trombonist O’Malley in a small group.

Their quintet, whose other members were Steve Hamilton on piano (another man who frequently turns up in other people’s bands but rarely leads his own), Ed Kelly on bass and Doug Hough on drums, are apparently a new outfit, but there was nothing in the performance to suggest that they hadn’t previously played together on a regular basis.

The music was basically a lyrical take on late 50s / early 60s hard bop, with a couple of more modern pieces (a tune by Tom Harrell and a Tom MacNiven original) thrown in. It was a interesting selection of tunes, though, going for more obscure numbers rather than the obvious ones.

The three main soloists (Hamilton, O’Malley, and MacNiven splitting his time between trumpet and flügelhorn) all played some nicely inventive solos, and the band also kept the set fresh by varying the order of the solos. Throw in a few neat touches in the arrangements (for instance in the opening “No Problem” where Phil O’Malley began his solo accompanied only by bass and drums) and what we got was a splendid set of straightahead jazz, reminiscent in idiom and feel of the great Shelley Manne “Live at the Black Hawk” sessions.

While this was the most musically conservative of any of the gigs I went to during this year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival, it was one of the most straightforwardly enjoyable. It drew a healthy crowd too: I’m not sure if this was a result of the successful marketing of the Festival as a whole (advance sales up 40% on last year, apparently), or whether it means there’s an untapped market for Saturday afternoon gigs.

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