The Nectarine No 9
Rutherglen Town Hall
By opting to reconvene after a decade to perform their 1995 Saint Jack album in full, Davy Henderson's Edinburgh-sired guitar auteurs The Nectarine No 9 proved themselves as maverick as the End Social programme that hosted them to remind the kids where their new pop idols learned their chops. With the final Nectarines line-up having morphed into the still utterly essential The Sexual Objects, it wasn't that hard to reconvene the troops to recreate Saint Jack's poundingly dark mix of skewed rock'n'roll eclectica. Ever the conceptualists, however, Henderson and Co don't do things by rote.
With the opening screening of silent movie, Death Of The Kelly Family, mutating into a Stan Brakhage-style abstraction, Douglas MacIntyre strikes up a garage-band bass-line before drummer Ian Holford comes on sporting raincoat and boxer shorts. Holford remains standing to take lead vocals on the magnificently named Couldn't Phone Potatoes as Henderson and guitarists Simon Smeeton and Graham Wann wander on.
Unlike similar work-outs by more lauded acts, what follows accentuates the album's multitude of subtleties or else reinvents the songs entirely. Can't Scratch Out, an insistent jab of a song on record, is helmed in by a complex and restrained arrangement and a whispered vocal more resembling something by Sam Prekop. The emotional purging of Unloaded For You becomes an appositely jaunty number recalling swing-era Subway Sect.
Poet Jock Scott's contributions are heard from the ether, while the instrumentals sound like twitchily inventive precursors to what we now know as post-rock in a thrilling reminder of why The Nectarine No 9 were and still are one of the most important bands alive.
Maxwell String Quartet
St Silas Church, Glasgow
I WONDER if the Cottier Chamber Project, which opened at the weekend, might have found itself a little gem of a new venue in St Silas Episcopal Church, which sits at the bottom of Park Road, a dead-end abutting the bottom of Gibson Street. It's warm, comfortable, spacious but not too reverberant, clean toilets and with a welcoming feel in the ambience, and a nice glass of wine available for a donation.
On Saturday, the church hosted the first concert in the Project's three-year survey of Shostakovich's 15 String Quartets, which will be played in numerical order by a series of different quartets. The young Maxwell String Quartet, a rounded, well-organised ensemble, launched the series with a broad approach, prefacing the First Quartet with two intriguing, early, short pieces, a moving Elegy and a dashing Polka which already seemed to contain pre-echoes of the Shostakovich to come. This notion, of anticipations, was underlined in a splendid performance of the First Quartet, whose opening movement already contains strong elements of that wicked wit which, as Shostakovich demonstrated throughout his career, can be turned to any purpose, including vitriolic criticism.
The Maxwells then gave a deeply-moving and elegiac performance of Ronald Stevenson's beautiful Recitative And Air, which is a concentrated and haunting exploration of Shostakovich's obsessive four-note motto theme, DSCH, before launching into a terrifically exhilarating account of Prokofiev's Second String Quartet.
And the acoustic? Thankfully, no sign of that booming, churchy acoustic, so destructive to chamber music textures.
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
In a career spanning some 40 years, Perthshire-born Dougie MacLean has deservedly achieved worldwide celebrity as a performer and songwriter. This concert saw him collaborate for the first time with the full RSNO contingent, and he revelled in the experience, while wryly acknowledging the irony of hearing early works like Till Tomorrow - composed in his teens and originally performed solo in the local folk club - improbably expanded to an orchestral setting.
The programme cannily showcased MacLean's trademark repertoire of folk-inspired originals and Robert Burns songs, with lush, sympathetic orchestrations penned by conductor John Logan and arranger Kevin McRae. And if it was the kind of unapologetically one-paced, mono-textural material that would normally have me fidgeting/rolling my eyes, it absolutely worked in this context, and was clearly manna to the hundreds of faithful in attendance who happily sang along .
There is an engaging lack of pretension and honesty to his presentation that is hard to resist; and herein perhaps lies part of his enduring appeal, even if beneath it all there is a songwriter of rare skill who has completely mastered his craft. It is no mean feat to be able to construct such beguiling melodies, and there is an accompanying gift for lyric-writing that often penetrates to the heart of human condition.
If a newly-independent Scotland should pick Caledonia as its National Anthem, it would be hard to conceive of a better choice.
Paul Harrison Trio
Glasgow Art Club
If jazz is the sound of surprise, as the New Yorker's long-serving jazz commentator Whitney Balliett opined, then Paul Harrison's music is jazz personified. Harrison seems to be incapable of predictability.
The pianist's selection of material often strays from the obvious - his choice from the Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis was the lesser-known but lovely Venice and from Kurt Weill the rather appropriately titled This Is New - but when he does settle for the familiar, he'll give it a very Harrisonesque variation.
The sparely phrased, slowly grooving reading of Lover Man, the elasticated treatment of Herbie Hancock's Dolphin Dance that veered from emphatic to free and the enigmatically twisting take on You Must Believe In Spring were all the work of a musician who's not one for routine but who doesn't make alterations for alterations' sake. There's an enquiring creativity in Harrison's arrangements as there is in his improvisations, which don't go for the gestural or dramatic, yet seek out a linear development that might be disarmingly simple but invariably beguiles or excites in the subtlest of ways.
His trio is a three-way conversation, with bassist Mario Caribe given lots of solo space he uses profitably and drummer John Lowrie allowed to flex his very flexible wrists in the music's free-flowing rhythmical motion. There's great variety of pace and musical style. Harrison is no slouch as a composer, as witness the animated Weird Utopias, but what stood out here was his ability to draw Cole Porter, Weill and even Milton Nascimento's samba-ing Cravo e Canela, complete with electronic keyboard solo, into his own very personal orbit.
Pleasance Cabaret Bar Edinburgh,
Sam Baker never forgets a face. He might invent a not necessarily very flattering story to go along with the visual memory but - and I'm guessing here - those who know that this is Sam being Sam and all part of his charm don't take offence.
Certainly nobody walked out of this, Baker's first Edinburgh gig since his capital debut in 2007, in high dudgeon at having salacious gossip appended to their previous meeting with the Texas-based poet-singer-songwriter.
Poet is an advisable part of that three-word description of Baker. He uses words with fastidious care and where other singer-songwriters might blow you away with their seductive use of melody or vocal pliability or, in some cases, guitar accompaniments that would stand up in their own right, Baker has a more basic approach.
His guitar playing is limited by the serial procedures that he underwent following the terrorist bomb blast in Peru that almost killed him and are referred to in Broken Fingers, one of numerous requests he fulfilled, which might at first suggest the work of a self-pitying victim but somehow finds a positive outlook.
This is generally what Baker does. His experience hasn't made him bitter - at least not outwardly - and it's as if coming so close to death has given him better powers of observation.
His characterisation is superb and what his songs, in person, lack in arrangement they more than compensate for in his ability to bring situations to potent, three-dimensional life.
Maybe storyteller is his ultimate professional designation. He certainly brings more than words and music to the stage and an evening in his company is always one well-spent.