Gig review: SNJO and Branford Marsalis, Edinburgh

The SNJO has nurtured a generation of home-based musicians to the highest standards, but along the way director Tommy Smith has also brought in a series of international guest soloists in a range of fascinating projects that have traversed much of the history of jazz.
Deep: Branford Marsalis. Picture: ContributedDeep: Branford Marsalis. Picture: Contributed
Deep: Branford Marsalis. Picture: Contributed

SNJO and Branford Marsalis Play Wayne Shorter - Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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The latest episode in that sequence featured American saxophonist Branford Marsalis playing the music of a man he admires to the point of veneration, fellow saxophonist Wayne Shorter. More importantly, Marsalis understands Shorter’s often enigmatic music intimately, and was able to burrow deeply into the inner workings of his signature sinuous melodies, intricate rhythms and richly unpredictable harmonic structures, on both tenor and soprano.

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Playing the specially commissioned arrangements was no problem for the band. Unlike many big bands who specialise in particular styles of jazz, director Tommy Smith and the players of the SNJO have demonstrated time and again that they can play pretty much anything, and with real distinction. The set list offered a fine cross section of Shorter compositions, dominated by his work as a leader in his classic Blue Note albums of the 1960s, alongside ESP (arranged by Mike Gibbs) and Nefertiti (Florian Ross) from his tenure with Miles Davis in the same decade. Geoffrey Keezer’s arrangement of 1995’s Virgo Rising represented a later period.

It was another performance of sustained excellence from this band, with their extended take on Manu Pekar’s arrangement of Footprints a particular highlight.