Jim Gilchrist: The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is yielding a bountiful folk & jazz harvest

Thanks to events including the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival’s Autumn season and the Scots Fiddle Festival, there’s plenty of good music to look forward to over the coming weeks, writes Jim Gilchrist

The nights may be fair drawing in, dare one say, amid dying autumn fires, but Edinburgh can enjoy a continuing blaze of music, particularly on the jazz scene, not least as the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival’s Autumn Series is ongoing until 20 November. A busy programme ranges from trad and vintage blues to contemporary jazz, fresh commissions and even, intriguingly, an excursion into Wonderland.

On 5 November, at the city’s St Bride’s Centre, for instance, veteran Scots blues guitarist Sandy Tweeddale and his band are joined by harmonica ace Lyndon Anderson. The following night the same venue presents Chronicle Tones, exploring how African music, soul, R&B and hip-hop have all found their way into the melting pot of urban music. Things shift into contemporary jazz mode on the 10th with esteemed pianist Tom Gibbs, drummer Alyn Cosker and bassist Andrew Robb sharing the bill with the Mar Trio, led by guitarist Ben MacDonald with bassist Brodie Jarvie and drummer Steven Henderson.

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The subsequent two weeks continue to offer a cornucopia of established or emerging talent, such as the rising young Shetland saxophonist Norman Willmore, blending jazz with folk and performing material from his album Alive & Well at the Muckle Roe Hall, with bassist Jarvie and drummer Corrie Dick, and sharing the bill with the vocal-piano duo Glassworks. That’s on the 11th, while on the 12th, three well established names – trumpeter Colin Steele, reedsman Martin Kershaw and guitarist Ross Milligan - present a bill of standards and original compositions, with up-and-coming young saxophonist Rachel Duns closing the evening with her band.

Colin Steele PIC: Archie MacFarlane
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The busy 12th also sees saxophonist Brian Molley and his quartet appearing along with the Ben Shankland Trio, as well as a double bill of vocalists, Cara Rose and Louise Dodds, all at St Brides, while the 13th features two potent instrumental groups in guitarist Graeme Stephen with his quartet and saxophonist Phil Bancroft’s trio.

The season draw towards its end with the young traditionalists of the Tenement Jazz Band joining forces with seasoned clarinettist Dick Lee, while a clutch of blues, rock and soul artists includes the Jensen Interceptors, Toby Mottershead and Kultura.

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Taking the aforementioned journey into Lewis Carrol territory is pianist Paul Harrison, who revisits his live score for the 1915 silent film of Alice In Wonderland on the 17th, in the company of vocalist Rachel Lightbody, saxophonist Norman Willmore, bassist Jarvie and drummer Tom Bancroft, matching improvisation to the film’s surreal imagery. For a full programme, see www.edinburghjazzfestival.com.

Outwith the Autumn Series, there’s another melling of improvised jazz with striking visuals as saxophonist Tommy Smith joins artist Maria Rud in Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral on 18 November for Luminescence, in which Smith, who has previously collaborated with Rud while leading the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, will play solo while Rud’s vividly responsive, real-time paintings are projected on the Cathedral’s interior.

Moving to another genre altogether, the weekend of 18-20 November sees that annual celebration of ringing strings, the Scots Fiddle Festival, celebrate its 25th anniversary, albeit two years late, thanks to the Covid hiatus.

Based at Edinburgh’s Pleasance complex, the weekend offers recitals, ceilidhs and courses in everything from Gaelic airs to klezmer, Shetland reels to Cape Breton step dance, with tutors including Adam Sutherland, Marie Fielding, Charlie McKerron and Patsy Reid. Concert headliners include the lively all-women sextet Heisk supported by the Roma musicians of the Ando Glass Collective, the full-blown fiddle power of Session A9, as well as Scots-Scandinavian fusioneers Lyre Lyre with singer, viola player and step-dancer Mairi Campbell.

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The weekend also launches the festival’s 25+2 Tune Collection – a compendium of new compositions all composed, naturally, by fiddle players (see www.scotsfiddlefestival.com).

Also publishing a tune collection, and playing at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on 6 November, is fiddler John McCusker and his band, currently touring to mark his 30th anniversary as a professional musician. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is yielding a bountiful musical harvest.