Perth Festival

Helena Kay & Peter Johnstone

St Matthew’s Church, Perth

Rob Adams

four stars

A NEW, beautifully re-appointed venue and a morning slot in Perth Festival of the Arts’ programme gave two of Scotland’s leading young jazz players a platform for their talents.

Perth-born saxophonist Helena Kay and pianist Peter Johnstone are both past holders of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title and, as befits their status, they produced a concert of high class, intimately played music. Both musicians are composers and their original pieces reinforced particularly the wit and imagination, in Kay’s case, and the harmonic awareness, in Johnstone’s, that they also brought to the more familiar numbers they included.

Kay produces a beautiful tone on tenor with occasional hints of her early alto-playing heroes, such as Art Pepper, in the higher register and a full, rounded, burnished sound elsewhere. Her improvisations are superbly well constructed, always keeping the original theme within touching distance, and her use of pauses and space adds both to the overall beguiling effect and the sense of genuine instant composition.

She and Johnstone, despite not having worked in a duo together much at all previously, showed a great rapport, sometimes switching soloist and accompanist roles and each responding to the other’s ideas and phrasing. Their take on Bill Evans’ Very Early swung with marvellous subtlety as Johnstone, who has a veritable rhythm section in his left hand, injected measured urgency, and the enjoyment they find in working together was clearly audible on Kay’s favourite standard, I’m in the Mood for Love, as Kay revelled in Johnstone’s cheeky variations. Kay’s own pert and swinging Mini Max V also emphasised the duo’s good-natured mutual understanding.