Music review: Colin Steele Quintet, Edinburgh

Colin Steele's technical difficulties thankfully seem to be behind him and he was on fine form at the Festival Theatre Studio. Picture: Contributed
Colin Steele's technical difficulties thankfully seem to be behind him and he was on fine form at the Festival Theatre Studio. Picture: Contributed
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TRUMPETER Colin Steele has led a number of different quintet configurations in a variety of repertoire since he emerged on the Scottish jazz scene in the mid-80s, but for most jazz fans, the Colin Steele Quintet has a very specific identity, focused on Steele’s own music and featuring the line-up on stage for this very welcome return to action.

Colin Steele Quintet

Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh

****

Steele has spoken frankly in the run-up to this Jazz Scotland tour about the technical difficulties he has endured with his trumpet playing, and of the role which trombonist John Kenny and classical trumpeter Mark O’Keefe played in helping him resolve those issues.

Although he has never relied on outright virtuosity and pyrotechnics in his playing, the seriousness of his problems were career threatening, and there was no doubting the sincerity with which he thanked his benefactors when dedicating one of his new compositions, There Are Angels, to them.

The return of this quintet with a set of new material has been eagerly awaited since the tour was announced earlier in the year, and did not disappoint, although a few more performances will doubtless tighten and refine the music.

The band was one of the big successes of the Noughties in Scottish jazz, but a combination of larger-scale projects (two tunes here were re-worked from an Edinburgh Jazz Festival big band commission in 2010) and the trumpeter’s travails has meant that a decade has elapsed since their last new set.

Steele’s gift for conjuring up attractive, often folk-inflected melodies has not diminished in the intervening years, and right from the opening I Will Wait For You the music occupied familiar stylistic ground, a clear extension of the musical sensibility which informed both the quintet’s earlier material, and the bigger scale jazz-folk fusion of Stramash.

The trumpeter was in sound form throughout, and his lyrical lead lines have their ideal complement in the tenor and soprano saxophone work of the ever inventive Michael Buckley.

Pianist Dave Milligan delivered his usual intelligent accompaniment and imaginative soloing, as well as his fine arrangements of the tunes, and the rhythm section of Calum Gourlay (the band’s newest recruit, although has has played with them before) and drummer Stu Ritchie provided sensitive and buoyant support in the quieter moments, and propulsive drive where it was needed. It’s good to have them back.