Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Laura Macdonald

Teviot Row

Keith Bruce


THE academic strand in this year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival programme that was evident in Euan Stevenson and Konrad Wiszniewski’s Classical Connection concert on Saturday and in the presence of Richard Michael’s Herald Angel-winning History of Piano Jazz show, was clearly also in the mind of the organisers for this appearance by alto saxophonist Laura Macdonald, fronting a quartet with pianist Paul Harrison, bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Doug Hough.

Billed as a History of Jazz Saxophone, Macdonald would always, however, have taken a very personal approach to the brief, even without the booking happening to fall on her birthday. That coincidence was dealt with in a delightfully school-marm fashion when she instructed the audience to sing for her, dictating the style of performance, choosing the key and counting us in. A few Edinburgh folk were perhaps affronted by such a forward approach from the West-coaster.

On her day, her path through jazz sax history was the one that had formed her own playing, ranging from the work of Duke Ellington orchestra alumni Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges to the more contemporary stylings of Kenny Garrett and Michael Brecker. She prefaced the performance of the Hodges-featuring Isfahan with an interesting aside about the distinction between emulation and inspiration, illustrated in a performance that demonstrated all the note-bending technique while reminding us that Laura Macdonald has her own distinct, stylistically adaptable, sound.

That observation could be applied to the whole band, with Harrison in particular clearly enjoying a repertoire that spanned a chunk of the 20th century. Lonnie’s Lament was a far-from-obvious choice of Coltrane tune, Charlie Parker’s Confirmation was given a fine, raw bluesy treatment (in contradiction of the leader’s confession of dread of its intricacies), and Joe Henderson clearly has a special place in her heart from her days at Berklee in Boston. A pantheon of sax heroes suitably, but very specifically, honoured.