by Ian Mann
May 18, 2021
Here the SNJO pay tribute to the music of Dewey Redman with arrangements by Paul Towndrow for featured tenor sax soloist Konrad Wiszniewski, with accompanying visuals by painter Maria Rud,
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, “Where Rivers Meet”, Livestream Series from St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh.
Livestream Two 13/05/2021
I explained the scenario behind this four part livestream series in my introduction to the opening broadcast on 12th May 2021.
This is reprised in the following paragraphs, extracted from the inaugural review;
“Formed in 1995 by the saxophonist and composer Tommy Smith the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (hereafter SNJO) celebrated its twenty fifth anniversary in 2020.
To mark this milestone it is currently in the process of screening a four part series of livestream events filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the 12th century St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.
The SNJO has regularly worked on ‘special projects’ and has collaborated with leading soloists, composers and arrangers from both sides of the Atlantic, among them pianist Geoffrey Keezer, vocalists Kurt Elling and Jazzmeia Horn, saxophonists Dave Liebman and Courtney Pine, vibraphonist Gary Burton and bassist Arild Andersen.
Their latest project is “Where Rivers Meet”, a celebration of the ‘free jazz’ and ‘new thing’ that emerged in the US during 1960s. It investigates the legacy of four hugely influential Afro-American saxophonist / composers who became leading figures of the movement, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler.
Spread over the course of four consecutive evenings each livestream is dedicated to a single composer, a member of the SNJO taking the role of featured soloist.
In addition to the musical performances these anniversary concerts also have a corresponding visual element. The SNJO has collaborated with the Moscow born, Edinburgh based painter Maria Rud and the concerts see Rud painting in real time in front of the orchestra, with her images projected onto the surface of the stained glass window at the west end of the cathedral.
Rud’s involvement has its roots in Smith’s love of the visual arts, his 2012 album “Azure” having been inspired by the work of the Catalan artist Joan Miro. He first met Rud in the same year at an event at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Rud subsequently suggested that they work together, having previously collaborated with other musicians as diverse as classical percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and the DJ Dolphin Boy. These collaboration formed part of Rud’s AniMotion series, which saw her works being used for large scale projections in a manner broadly similar to tonight’s event.
Smith, for his part, had previously worked on an audio / visual project with the Scottish painter Alan Davie, this collaboration with Rud therefore representing a very natural development.”
The first event of the “Where Rivers Meet” series had seen alto saxophonist Paul Towndrow in the role of featured soloist and playing the music of Ornette Coleman in a series of arrangements by Tommy Smith. My review of that performance can be found here;
Tonight’s event focussed on the music of Dewey Redman (1931 – 2006) with tenor saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski now fulfilling the role of featured soloist. In a nice example of continuity the arrangements of three tunes associated with Redman had been written by the previous night’s soloist, Paul Towndrow.
For this second performance in the “Where Rivers Meet Series” the SNJO lined up as follows;
Konrad Wiszniewski – tenor saxophone (featured soloist)
Martin Kershaw, Tommy Smith, Paul Towndrow, Bill Fleming – reeds
Jim Davison, James Copus, Christos Stylinades – trumpets
Kieran McLeod, Liam Shortall, Michael Owers – trombones
Pete Johnstone – keyboard
Calum Gourlay – double bass
Alyn Cosker – drums
Prior to the commencement of the performance the stream featured the same interviews to camera that both Smith and Rud had given before the inaugural performance.
Smith outlined the details of the project, much as described above. Meanwhile Rud explained that this was the first time that she had worked with jazz musicians and enthused about a musical form that combines the energy of rock with the complexity of classical music before filtering it through the prism of improvisation, with all the freedom that this entails. “Images come to me” she explained, “it’s like dreaming through open eyes”.
They also gave further interviews specific to tonight’s performance with Smith talking about Redman’s distinctive saxophone sound, dark in tone and rich in vibrato. He also told of how he had recognised Redman’s playing in a blindfold test, even when Redman was featured on alto rather than his usual tenor.
Smith first discovered Redman’s playing on guitarist Pat Metheny’s double set “80/81”, a recording that featured Redman in a twin tenor front line with Michael Brecker and saw bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette rounding out a truly stellar quintet. He also spoke of Dewey’s son, saxophonist Joshua Redman, whose fame now exceeds that of his late father.
Rud expanded on her earlier interview, again enthusing about jazz as an art form and of how the improvisational nature of the music enabled it to “awaken images”. She spoke of how the flowing, ever changing nature of the music inspired her to create “abstract story boards and dream like sequences” and praised the arrangements of these Redman pieces for being “playful and bright”.
Meanwhile Wiszniewski spoke more specifically about the pieces he had chosen. Redman’s composition “Dewey’s Tune” was taken from the repertoire of the Old And New Dreams group, a band formed of former Ornette Coleman sidemen with Redman and Haden featuring alongside trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. The group recorded two albums for Black Saint and two more for ECM. Wiszniewski first heard them at music college. He describes Redman’s playing on his own composition, which appears on the quartet’s eponymous 1977 début for Black Saint, as “melodic, soulful and gutsy”.
Wiszniewski first heard Redman’s composition “Joie De Vivre” played as a ballad, but Towndrow’s arrangement brings more of an upbeat and soulful feel to the piece, arguably more reflective of its title.
The final selection is the standard “The Very Thought Of You”, a song closely associated with pianist / vocalist Nat King Cole but a tune also performed by Redman.
Wisniewski confessed that he had heard Joshua Redman’s playing first, before working his way back to discover Dewey’s music. He also praised Towndrow’s arrangements for “brining out the essence of these tunes”. The superb playing of the rhythm section of Johnstone, Gourlay and Cosker was also highlighted, while Rud’s contribution was described as “spontaneous and creative”. Wiszniewski described the artist as “always reacting to what’s going on, she’s like a jazz musician with paint as her instrument”.
The performance itself began with the sound of Wiszniewski’s tenor introducing Dewey’s Tune”. His horn was soon joined by the whole ensemble, generating a genuine big band sound featuring punchy brass and driven forward by Cosker’s dynamic drumming, with Johnstone’s piano also prominent in the arrangement.
Wiszniewski’s solo featured a big, burnished tenor sound, reminiscent of Redman’s own and with those “melodic, soulful and gutsy” qualities very much in evidence. Smith had promised that Wiszniewski would be “reaching for the stars”, and this was very much the case here. Johnstone also featured as a soloist, with his keyboard on an acoustic piano setting. Wiszniewski then took over again, with a second solo that again demonstrated his power and fluency.
Led by Wisniewski’s tenor Towndrow’s arrangement of “Joie De Vivre” was as upbeat as had been promised, with joyous big band textures and fiercely swinging rhythms representing the backdrop for Wiszniewski’s fiery soloing, accompanied at one juncture by that exceptional rhythm section of Johnstone, Gourlay and Cosker.
Towndrow’s arrangement of Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought Of You” began in ballad fashion with lush ensemble textures, melodic double bass, brushed drums and lyrical piano. This allowed Wiszniewski to demonstrate his prowess as a ballad player, one short unaccompanied passage utilising the echo of the cathedral acoustic. Subsequently the music began to increase in momentum, swinging more openly as Wiszniewski now adopted a more urgent and raucous tenor sound as the SNJO readily embraced the virtues of the swing era. After reaching something of a peak the piece ended as it began in ballad mode, with Wiszniewski featuring with a solo tenor sax cadenza.
Rud’s accompanying visual images included a striking part bird, part human figure, an imposing raven like image that seemed to embody the power and gravity of the soloing. This gave way to more obvious human figures, arms aloft in a manner suggestive of dancing or celebration. Finally more wilfully abstract images, perhaps inspired by the architecture of the cathedral, these morphing into the shapes of trees, humanoids and ecclesiastical buildings as Rud, dancing animatedly at her painting table and wielding her brushes like vibraphone mallets, continued to respond to the music.
Despite Redman’s avant garde credentials, both through his own work and as a member of bands led by Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett, this was a surprisingly ‘straight ahead’ big band performance, generally less intense and more accessible than the previous evening’s programme of Coleman’s music had been.
Like Towndrow Wiszniewski had been hugely impressive as a featured soloist, playing with great power and fluency and demonstrating an admirable versatility. Meanwhile Towndrow remained in the spotlight with a series of excellent arrangements.
I will also be taking a look at the two remaining performances;
Anthony Braxton, featured soloist Martin Kershaw
Albert Ayler, featured soloist Tommy Smith
All performances are still available to view online.
To purchase tickets please visit http://www.snjo.co.ukblog comments powered by Disqus