I have to admit I’m not much of a modern jazz lover. Its sometime self-indulgence can, to me, often come across as irritating. How refreshing then to come across a new jazz album, created in Scotland, which is a joyous and, at times, moving celebration of all that is best about the genre.
In 1961, Stan Getz and composer-arranger Eddie Sauter produced Focus, a one-off album bringing together a jazz band and a string orchestra. Stevenson and Wiszniewski, two young, hugely talented musicians, decided to bring it up to date.
The Glasgow String Quartet, made up of musicians from the RSNO, provide the classical input (with a harp thrown in for good measure). Add the double bass and drums to the sax and piano, and you have your nonet.
From the first enigmatic cello melody which begins the opening track, you get an immediate surprise: this is something completely different. Stevenson’s arrangement skilfully blends and blurs the line between the two quartets and the musical traditions they represent, and hints back towards that golden era of the 1920s and 30s.
Soon it all feels perfectly natural (as it actually is). And what makes it more than a worthy experiment are the pair’s original compositions, which exhibit a vast range of influences and styles. The sultry, humorous El Paraiso sees sax sliding lasciviously over a melodic line, counter-pointed by dainty plucked strings.
Stevenson’s wistful Music for a Northern Mining Town shows off a Big Band scale of ambition, soaring strings and all. To round the album off, the urgent locomotive rhythm of Parsons Green shows that chamber music and jazz funk can indeed co-exist. It is clever, witty, and serious music.
The band ran through the tracks at the Art Club in Glasgow last week, with saxophonist Wiszniewski proving himself a charismatic front-man, Stevenson exhibiting nonchalant grace on the piano, and drummer Alyn Cosker showing a rare intensity – it was a miracle the drumsticks withstood it. It was difficult to know where to look, as one element of the band wove in and out of the music. A further pleasure was watching the evident enjoyment of the band themselves, not least the Glasgow String Quartet members, unable to resist a few jazzy nods and taps of the feet.
On the night, the sax and the drums out-muscled the more genteel strings and harp – and this perhaps points the way forward for the band. I might be biased, given my leanings for a lusher sound, but for the contest and collaboration between the jazz and strings section to be made more even, it would be great if the string quartet could be beefed up to a full strings section.
If someone somewhere can organise the Scottish Ensemble or the RSNO to get their bows round Stevenson’s brilliant compositions, we might have something completely magical on our hands.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west