Eight years on from the untimely death of his colleague in the jazz power trio EST, pianist Esbjörn Svensson, Swedish drummer Magnus Öström recently released his third album with his own band. Titled Parachute – a tribute to the saving grace of music – it provided much of the playlist for their Edinburgh Jazz Festival gig at the Queen’s Hall, a powerful if sometimes sonically challenging performance which hauled jazz into the realms of sophisticated prog rock.
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival
Magnus Öström Band | Queen’s Hall
Jan Garbarek Group | Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Carol Kidd | St Andrew Square Spiegeltent
Guitarist Andreas Hourdakis at times generated a Pink Floyd-ish howl alongside Daniel Karlsson’s piano and keyboard work and Thobias Gabrielson switching between electric bass and keyboard, the whole tied together and driven by Öström’s intense and incessantly shifting drum patterns. Clarity, particularly of Karlsson’s piano, could sometimes vanish into the mix, but it was inarguably an exciting performance, right from its no-holds barred openers from the new album, Dog on the Beach and Junas, the latter hypnotically churning over an ascending bass and keyboard continuum.
In contrast was Öström’s tribute to his late friend, Ballad for E from his earlier Thread of Life album, Hourdakis putting his own nicely considered stamp on the guitar part taken by Pat Metheny in the original recording, the piece climaxing without losing its elegiac quality.
Otherwise the riff-spinning kinetic energy rarely let up, Hourdakis’s stratospheric guitar riding the thunder or fading into a haze of electronics and churchy organ sound. Following a grand whammy of a drum break from Öström, their encore, Piano Break Song, may have opened with an enthusiastic audience clapping along, but the band soon left us behind, bobbing in the turbulence.
When it comes to Scandinavian jazz, there is probably no more iconic a figure than Jan Garbarek, who brought his group to the Festival Theatre on Wednesday. The Norwegian saxophonist firmly stated his Nordic credentials with his signature opening keening on soprano sax before sounding the stately theme of his Molde Canticle in unison with Yaron Herman’s warm-toned electric bass, joined by his long-time keyboardist Rainer Bruninghaus and Indian percussion virtuoso Trilok Gurtu.
Garbarek’s sax tone remains peerless, magisterial at times, although there was a certain lack of fluidity in some of the sets as he would break off abruptly for keyboard or percussion interludes. Bruninghaus’s measured piano and keyboard work doesn’t generally produce fireworks, although during one number, following a cod tango outburst with Herman, he did range engagingly from quasi-classical into something approaching boogie.
Gurtu, of course, is a marvel to behold, embarking on muscular tabla excursions and delving gleefully into his conjurer’s box of percussive tricks, his lengthy final solo eliciting multifarious squeaks, rattles, wobbly water chimes and quick-fire volleys of Indian percussive vocables with which he sparred delightfully with wheedling, bird-like ripostes from Garbarek’s open-ended flute.
Elsewhere there were old favourites – the exuberant Once I Dreamed a Tree Upside Down and the majestic melancholy of It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice. The chant-like nature of Gula Gula, by the Sami singer Mari Boine, can work up hypnotic levels of tension, but just as Garbarek seemed set to really let rip, a rather arbitrary-seeming percussion solo broke the spell.
From fjord echoes it was back down to earth, or at least to the quintessential jazz songbook, as interpreted by the inimitable Carol Kidd, bathed in the red glass-filtered evening sunlight of the St Andrews Square Spiegeltent and in limber voice, if clearly feeling the heat.
It’s a disservice to pianist David Newton to refer to him as Kidd’s accompanist when their musical relationship was more of a duet, the pair strolling companionably through A Foggy Day in London Town, or in the gently swinging existentialism of How Little it Matters. Kidd can really tell a song, supple-voiced and slinkily modulating that “sa-a-ad as a gypsy serenading the moon” line in Hoagy Carmichal’s Skylark.
Fran Landesman’s Ballad of the Sad Young Men came with a world-weary compassion that was possibly exacerbated by the fact that Kidd’s makeup was running into her eyes in the heat (how often do you see someone singing the blues with a tissue stuck to her forehead?), while You Make Me Feel So Young got a boisterously springy treatment from both singer and pianist, complete with droll asides directed at the silvery audience demographic.
Her limber voice ranged from the sinuous to a holler in the bluesy You Don’t Know Me and she moved quite a few to tears with her brief but heartfelt encore of When I Dream I Dream of You. The tent was packed, but if you missed her, you can catch her tomorrow night at the Queen’s Hall with Todd Gordon and less runny make-up.