This was the Homecoming gig that mattered to the capacity audience at the Queen’s Hall on Friday, the return of a hero, Jack Bruce, the Cambuslang boy who went off and literally conquered the world in rock music terms. Which Jack would turn up, though? Answer: quite a few of them.

He was Jack the Lad, pleading with blokes going out for a smoke not to leave and mocking his sixties anthem Sunshine of Your Love with peace signs. He was Jack the bass guitarist with the unique presence, playing with an economy that meshed brilliantly with Robin Trower’s howlin’, articulate, moody blues guitar and drummer Gary Husband’s super-efficient combination of thunder and subtlety.

Most affectingly, though, he was Jack the Voice. To describe the Jack Bruce of Cream as a great singer now seems like a glib understatement. This is a man who has sung the words of Samuel Beckett, as well as buckets of blues and the resulting depth of character and sheer tonal range, already huge, appear still to be growing.

His gnawing away at “is this real life?” towards Just Another Day’s coda was staggeringly effective and his singing consistently took the trio’s sharply focused, hard-edged blues-rock into the realms of high art, even if he mischievously dismissed his stunningly re-imagined Cream song We’re Going Wrong, delivered with superbly anguished bewilderment, as “a classic example of Scottish miserablism”. The honorary doctorates and degrees conferred by his local seats of learning are the least such a talent deserves but how great, too, to hear it in such a simpatico band.


Loren Stillman-Kevin Mackenzie Quartet,

Voodoo Rooms,


A special critic’s award for best tune title at Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2009 goes to Kevin Mackenzie for Finlay Finally Finds His Feet.

Here were four musicians playing, figuratively, as if they had their elbows on a bar and were chewing the fat, and as the minutes ticked by one would nudge the other into revealing more or moving on to another story. It wasn’t a private conversation, either, as Mackenzie’s opening gambit conveyed to all and sundry the inspiration behind it.

His co-leader, New York-based alto saxophonist Lauren Stillman’s P and Mackenzie’s own You’ll Never Know may have given away a bit less with their titles but both pieces fostered the mood of geniality. Stillman, as he would confirm again in the more formal setting of David Milligan’s Sylvander & Clarinda, is a player who can do joined-up thinking, marshalling ideas with a purpose so that his improvisations always reach a satisfying pay-off. The altoist’s tone complements Mackenzie’s style and in bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Alyn Cosker they had an ideal rhythm team.


Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra: Sylvander & Clarinda, Queen’s Hall


Following an inaugural homage to Duke Ellington, the second performance by the newly formed Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra brought matters closer to home while retaining a link, through the mighty Joe Temperley, with its first concert.

The Fife-born baritone saxophonist, who played in the Ellington orchestra under Duke’s son, Mercer, gave a beautiful version of Robert Burns’s My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose that slotted in perfectly with pianist David Milligan’s music inspired by the relationship between Burns and Agnes MacLehose.

The love affairs of Scotland’s national bard might not seem an obvious basis for a big band jazz project. But Milligan has a touch that can unite Scottish musical sensibilities very naturally with the jazz syntax and his writing here underlined that ability.

Clarinda’s Theme made effective use of clarinet, flute and soprano, alto and tenor saxophones set against muted trumpets, and the looser Faultless Monster, which also featured Temperley, combined a relatively simple and notably catchy idea with a muscularly direct horn arrangement.

The first of several items to feature Scots singers Karine Polwart, Corrina Hewat and Annie Grace found trumpeter Ryan Kisor tearing into a sequence based on C ome Ye Ower Fae France, and Sylvander’s Theme really ignited as Kisor starred in a two-Ryans, two-trumpets sparring match with Ryan Quigley.


Ibrahim Electric,

Voodoo Rooms


Ibraham Electric’s guitarist Niclas Knudsen describes the Danish band’s creations as “puzzle music”. That’s puzzle as in jigsaw, with lots of bits put together except not necessarily in the expected order, in Knudsen’s definition, although the trio’s music does have an enigmatic quality.

The Year of the Golden Pig wafts through several sequences that hint of at least one movie theme before moving on to something more deranged and in keeping with the marriage of tetchy Hammond organ, hyperactive drumming and hardscrabble guitar picking.

Jeppe Tuxen can build a solo, although not with the resourcefulness or sense of dramatic shape, and therein lies the problem with Ibraham Electric. There’s no denying the impact and excitement of their music and, with Knudsen as court jester, it’s enjoyable. But it’s bitty. A musicologist might, with reason, question their inclusion in a jazz festival, although hearing the ghostly cousin of the Shadows’ Rise and Fall of Flingel Bunt (another of the bits) does lend a certain novelty value.