Anyone who has seen Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra over its ten-year lifespan would have been forgiven for wondering if they were seeing the same band at the Queen’s Hotel on Saturday night – because the line-up only comprised four of its regulars. Why? Because, as Mathieson good-naturedly explained, Saturday was the busiest night in the Scottish jazz calendar – and his star-studded soloists had all been booked by the time the Lockerbie concert came to pass.
Lockerbie Jazz Festival - Various Venues
It certainly showed in the early numbers in the evening’s programme: whereas the CJO is renowned for its tight, thrilling ensemble playing, the sound at the outset was raggedy – and not helped by the PA system which added an underwater effect. The CJO is also known for its distinctive soloists – and thankfully trumpeter Billy Hunter and, especially, bassist Brian Shiels obliged with memorable contributions. But it was – as you might expect – the energy and sheer star power of the band’s special guest, American clarinettist Evan Christopher which grabbed the attention and kept the audience enthralled through a series of rare pieces by or associated with Jelly Roll Morton.
Even when he wasn’t serving up his characteristically exotic and dramatic clarinet in solos, Christopher was visibly stirring it up in the front line; almost goading the young musicians sitting alongside him into upping their game.
If there was a sense that Christopher felt somewhat (and necessarily) tethered by the arranged nature of the music on the CJO programme, then it explains his enthusiasm for jumping more or less off the deep end yesterday afternoon and letting rip during the first half of an afternoon concert in the delightful Oldwell Theatre in Moffat with only the equally irrepressible Brian Kellock (piano) for musical company. This was the official debut of a duo of which – on the basis of its utterly thrilling and electrifying performance and its enthusiastic reception – we will undoubtedly be hearing more.
Of course, how much the sparks were flying because it was the pair’s first formal encounter (they made each other’s musical acquaintance at Kellock’s regular Sunday session at Edinburgh’s Shore Bar) won’t be clear until the next time, but – as at the Shore last November – there was the feeling of witnessing the birth of something great. The programme may, as Christopher and Kellock pointed out, have been concocted in front of the Ryder Cup coverage around half an hour before the concert began, but some numbers – notably a hard-swinging Get Out of Town and Tea for Two, which began as a delicate, slow piece before leaping several gears into a top speed fingerbuster – highlighted how like-minded these two musicians are, as they dipped in and out of moments of what must have been telepathic arrangements.
Earlier, the John Burgess Hot Four – comprising Burgess (clarinet, tenor sax), Enrico Tomasso (trumpet), Jim Douglas (guitar) and Brian Shiels (bass) – played a lovely, laidback set of classic tunes from the repertoire of the late Alex Welsh in the Buccleuch Hotel in Moffat, kicking off an afternoon of top-notch jazz.