Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Colin Steele Quartet

George Square Spiegeltent

Keith Bruce


TRUMPETER Colin Steele has regularly appeared as a guest soloist on recordings by Scottish pop and indie bands during his career, so his recent album exploring the song-writing of David Scott of The Pearlfishers, on the Marina Records album Diving for Pearls, was perhaps not as radical a shift of repertoire as it might appear.

The originality of that collection, however, was not going to be matched by having its arranger, pianist David Milligan, turn his attention to the vast back catalogue of Canada’s Joni Mitchell. Unlike Scott, Mitchell has always had a clear affinity with jazz, particularly since the mid-1970s, culminating in 1979’s Mingus. This fecund period produced her best recordings and was quickly part of Steele’s set with Hejira, on which it was Milligan, rather than the trumpeter, who pushed the quartet’s interpretation of the music into original territory.

Completed by drummer Alyn Cosker and bassist Callum Gourlay, whose arrangement of A Case of You was a stand-out, this was a top drawer band, and the rhythm trio were the basis of the success of the night. There was perhaps a suspicion that, with his deadline approaching, Milligan had left himself a lot of bars to fill on the gig, but his muscular playing often lifted the pace significantly.

Miles Davis’s use of the harmon mute is what even the most casual jazz-lovers recognise on his ballad treatment of pop songs like Cindy Lauper’s Time After Time and Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, but Davis did not restrict himself to that approach all the time. Steele’s decision to stick to that exclusive sound undoubtedly limits the dynamic expressiveness of his instrument, so that what sounded highly appropriate on the opening Both Sides Now worked less well on the much less familiar Last Chance Lost, from Mitchell’s 1994’s Turbulent Indigo album, one of many announced as being her last.

Now 75, and unlikely to record again after a stroke, Joni Mitchell deserves all the attention she gets, but the Steele Quartet’s exploration of her legacy needs a little more development before they take it into the studio.