Celtic Connections review: Paul Towndrow & The Keywork Orchestra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Saxophonist Paul Towndrow’s glorious Deepening the River was commissioned for performance in Glasgow’s opulent Merchants’ House at Festival 2018, inspired by the city’s merchant past, the burgeoning fortunes of its port economy and its role in the transatlantic slave trade, and delivered by the eclectic Keywork Orchestra, bringing together a fine phalanx of jazz and folk players, with Towndrow conducting and contributing to this groovy 23-piece chamber ensemble.

Paul Towndrow

Paul Towndrow & The Keywork Orchestra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

Their massed potency was evident from the first magnificent brass flourish and what could have been a crazy cocktail of traditions found its level with folk melodies from the mellifluous fiddles echoed by the brass players.

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A swing section ushered in the first tranche of immaculate solos, each a bite-sized delight, with fiddler Laura Wilkie’s klezmer tones and Sodhi’s athletic tabla masterclass among the highlights. Michael Owers’ big pink sousaphone, a sight in itself, accompanied some serious sass from the rest of the brass.

Their soulful, strung-out yearning yielded to the hectic precision of the fiddles. In another deft change of pace, sprightly stride piano and a lightning burst of jigs and reels marked the dance portion of proceedings, which ultimately built to an exultant fusion of jazz class and folk energy.

The evening opened with harpist Esther Swift’s Manchester Jazz Festival commission, The Light Gatherer, setting seven Carol Ann Duffy poems for four harps, horns, strings, piano, percussion and voice – some were sung expressively by Swift, others whispered or intoned in groups, but it was the inventive use of swiping and sliding harps that really impressed and engaged. - Fiona Shepherd