Classical review: SNJO with Paulo Fresu, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra first performed this programme of music from the initial two collaborations between Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans back in 2000, with Ingrid Jensen as trumpet soloist.

SNJO with Paulo Fresu

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh


They were joined this time by the Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu – one of Europe’s leading musicians.

The band have also performed the more substantial combination of Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess, but The Birth of the Cool (1949-50) and Miles Ahead (1957) were ground-breaking collaborations, and masterpieces in their own right. The latter in particular gave full rein to Evans’ distinctive sonic explorations and instrumental colours, while laying the groundwork for “Sketches” and “Porgy”.

Tommy Smith necessarily took a conducting role in the Miles Ahead material (no saxophone required, other than a single alto in the wind section), directing a suitably expanded orchestra with the additional French horns, clarinets, flute and tuba required by Evans’ idiosyncratic scoring.

They played the album straight through as a kind of suite, as Evans intended. Fresu’s lyricism and rich, mellow sonority on flugelhorn was a perfect stylistic match for this music, and the orchestra revelled in the arranger’s subtle manipulations of colour, texture, dynamics and sonority.

The musical forces slimmed down to nine for Birth of the Cool, with Fresu again taking the Miles role. Impeccable playing again from all concerned, and Tommy Smith was finally found a playing role when he joined them for an encore on So What?