SNJO: Planet Wave, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

“It was a bang and it was big,” declares Edwin Morgan’s cosmic chronicler, opening Planet Wave, the late Makar’s collaboration with saxophonist and composer Tommy Smith, premiered 27 years ago and given volatile new life by the SNJO, of which Smith is director.

Celebrate poet Edwin Morgan’s centenary as the SNJO perform the colossal work PLANET WAVE: an extraordinary collaboration between Morgan and composer Tommy Smith.
Celebrate poet Edwin Morgan’s centenary as the SNJO perform the colossal work PLANET WAVE: an extraordinary collaboration between Morgan and composer Tommy Smith.

SNJO: Planet Wave, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

Accordingly the ten movements opened with the seismic brass rumblings of In the Beginning, underpinned by bass trombone and electronic effects, before sweeping on through countless millennia. Morgan, whose centenary falls this year, was a poet whose work ranged from the interpersonal to the inter-galactic. Here it was delivered by actor Niall Greig Fulton

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with admirable clarity over the ebb and flow of Smith’s vivid score.

There were vigorous solos from the likes of Smith and Konrad Wiszniewski on saxes, trumpeter James Davison, and from bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Tom Gordon (who both played in the 1997 premiere). Smith’s spooky Japanese flute haunted a grisly evocation of a Viking funeral, while thundering Mongol hordes were briefly stemmed by a false start before things flowed inexorably on, to the seafaring and skywatching of Magellan and Copernicus.

In the Cave, with its gallus, beer-swigging, mammoth-slaying denizens, became a Latiny fiesta, Pete Johnstone’s piano sent rippling pulses over the drowned world of The Flood while the inauguration of the Great Pyramid prompted a mighty procession of fanfares and booming drums.

A brazenly roistering ending framed Morgan’s stirring salute to humanity’s boldest travellers: “The Magellanic Clouds wait for those who have climbed Magellan’s shrouds”.

JIM GILCHRIST