Archive for the ‘jazz’ Category

It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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Perth Theatre has a series of ‘in the bar’ entertainment on Monday nights, called simply ‘The Monday Night Thing’.

Well, last Monday, the ‘thing’ was a rather special performance from UK Saxphonist Julian Arguelles playing with the legendary John Abercrombie trio.     Arguelles was a member of the 1980s iconic jazz collective Loose Tubes and now writes and performs with his own band, as well as teaching.     John Abercrombie is a veteran jazz guitarist, and does not play in the UK very often.      In the 1970s he played with the likes of the Brecker Brothers and drummer Billy Cobham, but he has played with a long list of the famous as well as his own band.    

Julian Arguelles

Julian Arguelles

They were backed by Michael Formanek on what looked like a 3/4 size double bass, and Tom Rainey on drums.    I have to say, Tom Rainey was just extraordinary to watch.    He only had a fairly small four piece drumkit, but he was very very creative as he took a fixed stare into space and hit anything and everything with sticks, brushes, mallets and his bare hands.    He rarely did the same thing twice, yet it all worked in with the music.    He hit cymbals from the top, sideways and from underneath.    At one stage he played a glass bottle of water, transforming it into sounding in different pitches by tilting the angle.     Pure and utter genius.

The band played some new Arguelles numbers, an Abercrombie tune and  a few standards were thrown in.   The pieces were well extended, often lasting 20 minutes or so.    The standards were standards with a difference.   Arguelles blew city sounds, and performed immense breath defying runs up and down the instrument.      The sold out audience of around 100 or so gave them warm appreciation, and brought them back for more.

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I caught Jeff Beck’s set from Ronnie Scott’s on BBC Four recently, and have not enjoyed music on TV as much as this for ages – and that includes Later with Jools Holland, good though that show is.

Here was Beck, relaxed and really enjoying himself in an intimate club atmosphere.    His guitar playing was sensational, and the camerawork allowed us to study how he was producing such amazing sounds.    He was joined by Joss Stone for a blistering version of ‘People Get Ready’ – (Joss Stone has changed completely by the way), as well as by Imogen Heap and finally Eric Clapton.

The band were extremely good in their own right:   Vinnie Colaiata on drums, well-known jazz pianist Jason Rebello on keyboards (letting fly at one point with a solo which had so many notes coming so fast that it just sounded impossible to do – did he just play that?), and relative newcomer from Australia, Tal Wilkenfeld on bass – one to watch – at only 22 she has a big career ahead of her.      It was the way all the players interacted that showed us just what a great time they were having ….. and so was the audience.

The BBC i-player has run its course now, but bits of this are on Youtube, like the Joss Stone number. 

Interestingly, Vinnie Colaiata and Tal Wilkenfeld joined Herbie Hancock on ‘Live at Abbey Road’ with Corinne Bailey Rae singing River.

Track listing was:

01. Eternity’s Breath
02. Stratus (2007-12-01 second show)
03. Behind The veil (2007-12-01 second show)
04. Nadia (2007-12-01 second show)
05. Space Boogie (2007-12-01 second show)
06. Angel (Footsteps) (2007-12-01 second show)
07. People Get Ready (with Joss Stone)
08. Good Bye Pork Pie Hat / Brush With The Blues (2007-12-01 second
09. Blanket (with Imogen Heap) (2007-12-01 second show)
10. A Day In The Life (2007-12-01 second show)
11. Little Brown Bird (with Eric Clapton)(2007-11-29)
12. Jeff band intro (2007-12-01 second show)
13. Where Were You (2007-11-29)

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E.S.T. Esbjorn Svensson

Absolutely shocking news about Esjborn Svensson, the jazz pianist who died while scuba diving in Sweden last weekend aged 44.  

I first heard the Esbjorn Svensson Trio being played on Radio Scotland a few years ago, and was knocked out by a track from Seven Days of Falling.   I heard them play live in Dundee when they were very new to the UK and also when they played in Perth last year.    Their music is very classically based, and acoustic with carefully added electronics – it is by turn exciting, enthralling, haunting and incredibly beautiful and lyrical.     To put it in a box called ‘Jazz’ is only because it overlaps with so many musical forms.

Svensson formed E.S.T. fifteen  years ago with bassist Dan Berglund and schoolfriend drummer Magnus Ostrom.    They moved on from playing standards, through Monk to all original material, and their approach was deliciously inventive yet always accessible.    The trio worked seamlessly together to evolve their new music, sparking ideas off eachother in live performance, so that each performance of a familiar E.S.T piece was completely unique, and often very different from the original.    Indeed – sometimes when they got to the end of a piece, it had arrived at such a different place, they had forgotten what they had started playing.   

They took their own sound engineer and their lighting designer with them on tour, as they considered both to be integral to the performance.    The group won many awards, including a BBC Jazz Award for best international Act in 2003.

Fifteen years is a long time for a group to evolve together.    E.S.T. were continually inventing new and wonderful music, and looked to have many successful years ahead of them.    They had so much still to do.

To have all this so cruelly cut short is truly heartbreaking.     Obit. in The Scotsman.

Esbjorn Svensson


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Carol Hogel is an American who has been living in Scotland for the past 25 years.    She has been a major sponsor of the arts in Scotland and the UK – to the tune of £20 million through the Dunard Fund which she set up.

She has contributed to the RSNO, most UK opera companies, the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and lots more.    It is a big list, and adds up to a lot of money.

For Scotland, through her generosity, she has allowed us to be genuinely ambitious with artistic projects, like the building of the Playfair project at the National Gallery, like bringing Peter Stein’s Parsifal to Edinburgh, and so much more.      She helped rescue the Edinburgh International Festival from a financial black hole.   In short, she has made a major contribution to the UK arts, particularly in Scotland.

But now, faced with what she sees as a tax for bringing her wealth to the UK – the Brown/Darling  non dom tax of £30,000 pa, she has announced that she is moving to California, where philanthropists giving to the arts are appreciated.

Shamingly, it was not the tax itself which tipped the balance, but a chippy article written by Robert McNeil in The Scotsman which concluded by saying “The rich are leaving, and good ruddy riddance to them”.   Hogel wrote a letter back accusing McNeil of “taking ethnic cleansing to a whole new level” and calling him “destructive, spiteful and philistine”.    

A civilised country is measured in part by its artistic and cultural status and aspirations.     A vibrant arts sector contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Scotland.    It encourages others to visit, and it provides many jobs.

So, this is to say thank you so much to Carol Hogel for her generous contributions.      I am so sad it had to end like this.     NcNeil and The Scotsman should be hanging their heads in shame.

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Arts Round-Up 2007

24 Plays seen – I can’t manage a favourite, so pick of the best:   Black Watch, All My Sons, Volpone, Wonderful World of Dissocia, Rhinoceros.      We have some really good theatre in Scotland.

9 Films:  best ones:   Lives of Others, Tell No-one, The Counterfeiters, Babel, Atonement.

15 Concerts:  Scottish Ensemble lunchtime concert with Toby Spence in Glasgow takes the prize, although RSNO Mahler 3 was good.

7 Operas:  Barber of Seville at Scottish Opera was great fun, but Albert Herring and Don Giovanni at RSAMD every bit as enjoyable.

3 major art exhibitions:  enjoyed Millais at the Tate, and more recently, the Joan Eardley in Edinburgh.    Also saw a huge amount of art in Paris this summer.

But I think my event of the year is one which straddles categories and was the wonderful production of The Soldier’s Tale seen recently in Glasgow.     Runner up was Rhinoceros at the Royal Court.

Looking forward to an equally interesting 2008.


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