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Glasgow Art Club, Thursday 27 September

Let’s get the Stan Getz bit out of the way first. The music we heard at Glasgow Arts Club might initially have been inspired by Stan Getz’s Focus, but it was in no way a mere imitation of it. Getz’s album consisted of music for tenor sax and string orchestra; Wiszniewski and Stevenson gave us music for jazz quartet with string quartet and harp. Konrad explained during one of his introductions that they had originally been commissioned to recreate Focus at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, but had found it impossible to reduce Eddie Sauter’s orchestrations to work well with the smaller string forces they had to hand, so they’d gone off to do their own thing with the musicians available to them.

What we got as a result wasn’t just jazz with a string backing. The music took good advantage of the possibilities of the nonet: there were passages for jazz quartet, passages for string quartet, and passages for the whole band (with and without harp). The material they played was written by either Wiszniewski or Stevenson, with the exception of “I Remember When”, which was one of the few pieces from the original Focus they’d been able to do anything with. Overall it was a set of melodic, romantic pieces, but it managed to avoid ever becoming too MOR or sentimental.

Euan Stevenson wrote the arrangements, and there were some lovely touches to them. “El Paraiso” began with a pizzicato bass solo from Euan Burton, which led into a pizzicato cello solo, then into pizzicato string quartet writing before the jazz quartet kicked in. Another piece began with lush cascading piano and harp figures before the main tune appeared. “Dziadzio” (an established piece from Konrad’s back catalogue) and Euan’s “Music for a Northern Mining Town” were given elegiac, mournful string backings. I thought they’d work very well as film music.

Konrad Wiszniewski had the lion’s share of the solos. While he doesn’t sound anything like Stan Getz, he’s got similar virtues: a lovely melodic way with ballads, coupled with the ability to steam through the changes on the more up-tempo, swinging numbers. His playing’s always impressed me, and he’s getting better and better.

Just occasionally there was a slight problem with the balance: maybe it was just because I was sitting nearer the jazz players than the string section, but when the music was at its most heated, there was the odd point at which the strings were slightly drowned out by the piano and drums (Alyn Cosker’s a superb drummer, but he’s also frequently a very loud one).

But that’s a minor quibble. This was not just one of the gigs of the year, but one of the musical events of the year. So I’d better give the full line-up:

  • Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor and soprano saxophones)
  • Euan Stevenson (piano and arrangements)
  • Euan Burton (bass)
  • Alyn Cosker (drums)

The Glasgow String Quartet

  • William Chandler (violin)
  • Jacqueline Speirs (violin)
  • Ian Budd (viola)
  • Betsy Taylor (cello)
  • Alina Bzhezhinska (harp)

Finally, it was great to see the Glasgow Art Club jam-packed for this concert. The only other time I’ve seen it as busy as this was when Jim Mullen played there in Spring 2011. Let’s hope that some of the less-regular visitors come back to some of the later gigs in the season.

This concert’s definitely generated something of a buzz. Rob Adam gave it a rare, and deserved, five star review in the Herald. The Scotsman’s critic began his review by saying that he didn’t like modern jazz before going on to rave about how good the evening was.

New Focus, the album most of the night’s music came from, is released on November the 5th on Whirlwind Recordings. Mind you, lots of people, myself included, came away from the Art Club clutching a pre-release copy. It’s wonderful. Buy it.