Graeme Stephen Trio, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Rob Adams


Edinburgh's Soundhouse organisation's weekly Monday music series in the Traverse Theatre's bar has been a boon to the capital's live music scene. Operating on a night when touring musicians might be struggling to find a gig and when local players are happy to extend the working weekend, it offers the relaxed ambience of a bar gig but with an attentive audience in concert mode.

This situation suits guitarist Graeme Stephen to a T. Stephen's style of jazz is essentially conversational, engaging the listener with quiet, attractive lines that take off on extended creative flights while his bass and drums team, Mario Caribe and Tom Bancroft support him with a close musical understanding that comes from playing together in varying projects over a considerable period.

Concentration is key because there's a world of musical ideas in Stephen's repertoire, from the tricky, compound time textures of the Eastern European-flavoured Turns to the gentle, slightly Scottish-accented Shocked, with its looped guitar figures forming an atmospheric backdrop, and from the craggy, granite-hard Red Hill to the easy-flowing calypso of Mandeville, which Stephen borrowed from a favourite drummer, the late, brilliantly individual Paul Motian.

Set alongside Stephen's own compositions, the standards All the Things You Are and Solar might seem almost anachronistic. The guitarist, however, has his own sound and improvising language that brings these jazz warhorses entirely into his orbit and the swinging momentum of Caribe and Bancroft, whose style is as distinctive as Stephen's, gives them the same feeling of fresh impetus as, say, Stephen's Still, which was introduced here as "romantic" but makes a fairly imposing, hard-edged opening statement before finding its reflective, beguiling core.