The accessible jazz style that made the groups of Art Blakey, Horace Silver and the Adderley brothers popular in the late 1950s into the 1960s retains its power to attract, as the excellent turn-out for this latest in Bridge Music's Jazz Thursdays confirmed. Britain had its own, homegrown exponents of this notably gospel and blues-accented movement in the Jazz Couriers and there was something of that band, as well as a clear devotion to the US originals, in trumpeter Colin Steele and saxophonist Stewart Forbes's presentation here.
Smart arrangements and engaging with the audience were the order, with Forbes' enthusiasm for his subject matter coming through clearly both in his announcements and his improvising on themes and chord sequences that have long been part of the jazz fabric. His feature of Polka Dots and Moonbeams and his extemporising on Wayne Shorter's One By One were real in-the-tradition statements but with a fresh angle added in his spontaneous phrasing.
Steele also contributed a fine feature, on the theme from China Town, as the band capitalised on the line-up permutations of a quintet, two separate quartets and a rhythm section that functions not only as a very able support unit but also as an entity in itself, with pianist Euan Stevenson shining brightly. Not all of the music went back to the bebop and hard bop eras. Tom Harrell's Terrestris, with a feel similar to On Broadway, brought matters more up to date while keeping to the prevailing mood of direct, melodic communication.
SNJO with Courtney Pine
Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
If space allowed above there would be movie-style credits for best supporting player, director and possibly more. As featured soloist, Courtney Pine brought to the music of John Coltrane the vigour and intensity that have become his hallmark since he emerged on the London scene in the mid 1980s and just as Elvin Jones's drumming lit the fire under Coltrane's saxophone improvisations, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra's resident percussion dynamo, Alyn Cosker's rhythmical propulsion drove Pine on his exhaustive work-outs on a selection of the pieces most closely associated with Coltrane.
Once again, SNJO director Tommy Smith had commissioned arrangements from his international team and these arrangements required diligence and expansive talent from the orchestra, with Manu Pekar's take on Acknowledgement, the opening part of Coltrane's A Love Supreme suite, presenting a horn arrangement based on the master's original solo that emphasised the superb quality of SNJO's section work.
Naima, as reimagined by New York vibist Joe Locke, superimposed Coltrane's talismanic melody onto an unfamiliar but effective, compound time framework.
Paul Towndrow's arrangement of Resolution was as imaginative as his alto improvisation was soulful and there were fine solos from trumpeting Toms Walsh and MacNiven, saxophonists Konrad Wisziewski and Martin Kershaw and pianist Steve Hamilton before Smith first joined Pine in a twin-tenor torrent then conducted the orchestra's collective punctuating stabs, slurs and flurries as Pine attacked The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost with sustained ferocity to create a finale that justified Smith's "we have nothing left" farewell.
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
WHAT a night with the RSNO on Saturday. It was the old formula of overture, concerto and symphony (equivalent). The music was in the right hands, the musicians were playing as though they were on something illegal. And there was one other thing that left me speechless.
There is nothing like one of Rossini's sparkling Overtures to kick off a grand occasion, and his Silken Ladder Overture did just the job on Saturday, rather like a dry, fizzy drink that ignites your palate. Then on came Argentinian Iingrid Fliter with Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto in a strong, open and powerful performance. She's the flavour of the month, but we always need new voices, challenging voices, and in a Beethoven Four that accentuated passion over poetry, we got just that from this lady.
Then the evening was given over to a huge RSNO performance of Strauss's symphonic poem, Ein Heldenleben, in which music director Peter Oundjian got everything right: the pacing, balancing and projection of the epic, to say nothing of its fantastic characterisation, with leader Maya Iwabuchi in awesome form.
There are stupendous demands by Strauss on every section of the orchestra: it's a virtuoso showcase, more for the horn section than anyone. But did you hear the stellar playing by the first horn, who has to take the piece to the heavens? That first horn on Saturday was a young man called Christopher Gough. He's on trial for the job. But by day he is still an undergraduate student in the Royal Conservatoire. Wow.
City Hall, Glasgow Michael Tumelty
Do you mind if I personalise this? It's late on Friday night as I write, and I feel very humble. I have been stilled into silence. I have spent probably too much time on this night drying tears. In almost seven decades, I have heard Dvorak's Cello Concerto hundreds of times from dozens of cellists, in concert and on record. I have heard great, not so great, and routine performances of the masterwork.
I won't personalise this bit, but just make a flat statement, with every ounce of whatever experience and instinct I might have. I know the world is full of great cellists, orchestras and conductors. But there has never been a greater performance of this concerto than the emotionally shattering one given on Friday night by Steven Isserlis, with the SCO and conductor Robin Ticciati magnificent but almost invisible. This wasn't about the individuals and the orchestra. It was wholly about the music, which the genius Isserlis freed from the page with all its flexibility, passion and poetry. It was majestic, intimate, soulful and transcendent. I will never hear it more honestly told: there is nothing like hearing great artists and musicians telling the truth. This was it.
It was the highlight of a supreme SCO performance which demonstrated that, with Ligeti's gleaming Melodien in the right conductor's hands, there is nothing scary about modern music, and in Haydn's 73rd Symphony, La Chasse, with the SCO horns in golden form, there is a neglected but brilliant repertoire out there to be reawakened. A glorious musical night.