Interview: Busy bassist Euan Burton puts it about

NEVER a dull moment, it seems, for a creatively adaptable young bass player. When I spoke on the telephone earlier this month to much-in-demand jazz double-bassist Euan Burton, he was about to fly home from touring Ireland with Los Angeles-based Swedish jazz guitarist Andreas Öberg and Belfast drummer David Lyttle.

• Tom Gibbs and Euan Burton will be performing their Forgotten Things

Before that he'd been playing the Edinburgh Fringe with sultry French-Irish chanteuse Camille O'Sullivan and on returning to these shores was due to head up to the west Highland village of Strontian and switch into folk mode for a BBC live recording with the celebrated fiddle and accordion duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham.

"It's nice, just trying to play as much music and as much different kinds of music as possible," says the 25-year-old Glasgow-based musician. "I love jazz but I also listen to things like hip-hop and rock. It influences your compositions as well, when you've got all these different styles of playing and it's always great to see how the different musicians you play with as a sideman find ways to connect with audiences, And you try and take some of those things into your own music."

So Burton gets about, although the term "jobbing musician" doesn't really do justice to the his fluid and warm-toned bass work, or his compositional abilities. But it will be very much his own music, as well as that of pianist Tom Gibbs, his regular playing partner at the Sunday-night jazz session at the 78 bar in Glasgow's West End, that will be exercising him, as the pair, joined by the aforementioned drummer David Lyttle, play Skye Jazz Festival the weekend of 8-10 October.

Other acts on Skye, where the festival venues include the Royal Hotel, Portree, the Old Inn at Carbost, the Edinbane Hotel and the Gaelic college at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, are Edinburgh singer Freddie King with guitarist Lachlan McColl, Ronnie Dunn on bass and Rick Taylor on trombone, while Amy Geddes, better known as a folk fiddler, features in a new jazz-orientated project with guitarist Kevin MacKenzie, bassist Tom Lyne and the festival's organiser, drummer Ian Copeland.

Burton and Gibbs will be, among other things, reprising the music they wrote for Forgotten Things, a fine album released on their own Wee Jazz Records label by the Euan Burton/Tom Gibbs Group earlier in the summer but only now appearing the shops.

Forgotten Things - its title a wry reference to the length of time it took for the album to emerge - features the duo along with fellow Scot Martin Kershaw on alto sax and clarinet, more than holding their own in the potent company of two top New York musicians, drummer Ari Hoenig and guitarist Gilad Hekselman.I was highly impressed by the exuberant gig that Hoenig, Hekselman and Burton, played at the Lot in Edinburgh at the beginning of this year - there's a whiff of its fire in the track Party Time, a Burton composition, as it slips and slides between funk and blues, with Hekselman's guitar sounding over Gibb's ringing electric (on this track only) piano and Hoenig's tumultuous but precision-driven thunder.

In fact, from the effervescent cascade of unison piano and guitar notes that launch the album's opener, Diddley Diddley, to the terse yet lyrical strolling of the closing If I Could Sing A Love Song, this is an album that manages to be satisfyingly busy, tonally vivid and, dare one say, fun.

Burton first met Hoenig, one of the most highly regarded drummers on the New York scene, some years ago when the young bassist gained a Scottish Arts Council grant to further his professional development in New York and took lessons from Hoenig. Subsequently, when Hoenig and guitarist Hekselman embarked on a European tour, Burton joined them and arranged some Scottish gigs.

"Ari's amazing" says Burton. "Technically in any genre he must be one of the best drummers in the world, but he's so musical with that technical ability that it really comes across. He's got this amazing way of communicating with every member of the audience. And he can be humorous, too, like when he starts playing melodies on drums.

"As for Gilad, he's got the history of the bebop language in his playing, but also a modern approach to rhythm. So to be stuck between him and Ari can be quite frightening sometimes, they have such a strong dialogue."

Two years ago, during a spare day while on tour with the two Americans, and joined by Gibbs and Kershaw, they went into Sound Caf Studios, tucked into the lee of the Pentlands outside Penicuik. Burton and the two Americans had pretty well gelled musically by that time: "We'd been on pretty full-on tour. It always takes a few nights to get that connection between musicians with different backgrounds, different musical vocabularies. A couple of nights before the recording session, we did one gig joined by Tom and Martin Kershaw which we split into two sets, one in which we played Ari's music and the other in which we played through Tom and I's music for the album."

Burton hopes to have another album out by the end of the year, this time featuring his Occurrences quintet with guest saxophonist Will Vinson from New York, Irish guitarist Mark McKnight, Steve Hamilton on piano and drummer James Maddren, who also plays with currently fted pianists Kit Downes and Gwilym Simcock.

As well as their performances with David Lyttle on Skye, 13 and 14 October see Burton and Gibbs reconvene in quartet form with Phil Bancroft on saxophone and Chris Wallace on drums at the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, followed by Glasgow Arts Club.Before joining Gibbs on Skye, however, the busy Burton can also be heard as sideman in two quartets led, respectively, by Dumfries drummer John Lowie's quartet and the young Canadian tenor saxist Mike Ruby, both at yet another jazz event in a virtually diametrically opposed corner of the country, the fifth Lockerbie Jazz Festival, which runs from 1-3 October.

Headlining the Lockerbie bill is the irrepressible singer Carol Kidd, two world-class reedsmen, Alan Barnes and Ken Peplowski (also playing with the Jim Mullen Organ Trio), and the Red Stripe blues and boogie band. The festival promises a day-long, five-venue "town centre extravaganza", under the well-worn title Take Five, including the aforementioned John Lowrie and Mike Ruby outfits, as well as such disparate acts as Argentine Tango Dance, Havana Swing, the local Lairds of Dixieland and Dumfries Youth Jazz Group.

Take Five's 23 concerts also include performances by the extraordinary young "raga pianist" Ustav Lal, who introduces the Commonwealth Jazz Explosion (acknowledging the handing over of the Commonwealth Games Flame by India to Scotland in October), an intriguing line-up of saxophonist Laura MacDonald, pianist Steve Hamilton and drummer John Lowrie, all from Scotland, with Lal and South African electric bassist Prince Bulo, and Canada's Ruby also on sax.

The considerably boosted programme of this fifth Lockerbie Jazz Festival has been enabled by Event Scotland, new sponsors DS Smith, and by Dumfries and Galloway council who have designated the festival a "beacon event", with promised funding of 10,000 per annum until 2012, a heartening gesture in these difficult times.

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