The National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland plays Donald Fagen’s Nightfly: Review (At the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival)


IMG_4431

First of all, apologies for the truly awful photo above.

One of my all time favourite albums is Donald Fagen’s post Steely Dan 1981 debut solo album, The Nightfly.  Indeed so much do I love it that I have made the Nightfly my alter ego for my music quiz hosting and the short time I DJed on Jubilee FM.

It is a record of complete perfection with its jazz infused tones and theme and was, for many, Steely Dan fans a step up even from their giddy heights.

Well,  Malcolm Edmonstone has taken the album and arranged it for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland and performs a ‘big band’ rendition from start to finish (with five brilliant vocalists) and conducted by Andrew Bain in Edinburgh’s brand new Rose Theatre on Rose Street (in itself worthy of celebration because its a new small to mid-sized space that offers much potential).

The album astoundingly transforms itself into a jazz ensemble piece and guest guitarist, the venerable Malcolm Macfarlane, is mindbogglingly brilliant as lead guitarist and shares two of his own excellent filmic numbers prior to the Nightfly set.)  One number has interesting nods towards a Sufjan Stevens sound, although I spoke to him after and he didn’t know Sufjan.  (Malcolm, go listen.)

But the stars of the piece are obviously the orchestra (it is their gig after all).  All young, all impressively talented and all bringing a classic album to life (that was recorded before any of them were born) with consumate ease.

The West coast Californian languor of Fagen’s late night radio station vibe is frankly cool as fuck and this makes the most of it.

Only 8 songs, but every one of them cool, chilled, jazzy, soulful and simply brilliant.

Sadly the Rose Theatre have a little work yet to do on their sound mixing but it wasn’t enough to damage a brilliant, classic, unique performance of truly great worth.

Kamasi Washington: Truth. Even if you don’t like jazz you will love this.


I can hardly believe that only 300,000 have viewed this at the time of writing.

It’s a piece called Truth by Kamasi Washington and please find 14 minutes in your life to watch this on fullscreen at full volume.

For those of you who don’t know, Kamasi Washington is an American Jazz Saxophonist and has worked extensively with Kendrick Lamar (on to Pimp a Butterfly. the best album of 2015) and many others.

It’s the final movement in a five movement piece conceived for the Whitney Museum in New York’s 2017 Biennial called Harmony of Difference and the film was directed by A G Rojas , a Barcelona based film director who’s also made videos for the likes of Jack White.

The centrepiece of the film fits the slow movement, within the movement as a whole, and features the longest, slowest zoom and pan you will ever see.  Orson Welles would be proud of it.

I first heard this on the amazing Giles Peterson show on BBC 6 Music (it’s a treasure trove of beautiful, jazz, jazz influenced and electronica that makes a Saturday afternoon a very fine thing – or listen to his show in download form on the BBC iPlayer).

Incidentally for the sharp eared among you the central six note theme (that’s introduced on the guitar) is virtually identical to Gorgeous George by Edwin Collins.  Not that I am criticising this, but it was nagging away at me as to what I knew it from.

La La Land: Movie Review. The greatest movie musical ever made? No spoilers I promise.


LA-LA-LAND-title-1.jpg

A bold statement I admit, when you have to size it up against West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain.  But from the first bar of Another Day of Sun  – a huge Busby Berkeleyesque number – that erupts on the gridlocked freeways of LA you know you are actually in heaven.

The two central characters, Mia and Sebastian, are introduced at its finale and we set off on a love story like no other.  (Are there even any other actors in the film.  I’ll have to look next time.  Oh yes.  John Legend completely taking the Mickey out of himself.  Tip your hat to him for that.)

Well, it’s like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg actually, but better, so so much better.

There are only actually 7 songs in it.  So it’s quite an unmusical, musical.  And neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone can really properly sing.  But that’s beside the point.

Writer and director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash – another magical movie about jazz) subverts the musical genre by having almost no music in the third and fourth acts.  But it doesn’t matter because now he has a story to tell.

Emma Stone is nothing short of mesmerising.

images.jpeg

Those eyes.

That cinematography.

Those costumes.

Ryan Gosling.  A fault free cinema superstar.  He rises eloquently  and handsomely to the occasion.

ad_230997496-e1483945290392.jpg

But even though they are both brilliant this is Damian Chazelle’s movie.  He has the mark of a master with his direction and storytelling.

It even has tap dancing.

lala-land.jpg

I won’t spoil it for you by sharing the full storyline as I knew nothing of it before I went to see it but I confess I was worried about the hype and the knowledge that the leads can’t sing.  There was no need to worry and you shouldn’t either because this movie is about the unique vision of Damian Chazelle.  He is clearly a scholar of big studio big budget musicals and has used the power of Whiplash’s success to create a dream that no-one has been allowed to tamper with.  It’s a deconstruction and reconstruction of everything that makes great musicals great but with the twist outlined above.

City of Stars has already picked up a Golden Globe, and rightly so,  but it’s not even the best song in the movie.

It’s difficult to go much further without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

Probably the best musical movie ever made.  I led the applause and went to buy a ticket for the showing immediately after the one I’d seen but circumstances prevented me from watching it back to back.  I’ll have to wait until later this week when it opens properly.

Put it this way I’m now extremely jealous of the 99% of the world’s population who have yet to see La La Land and I beseech you to follow my actions.

A straight 10/10.  No question.

Know any stenographers?


Do you even know what a stenographer is?

The Urban Dictionary describes it thus:

stenographer is someone who types what people say. You have to listen carefully and type very fast to be a stenographer. On TV shows, you may have noticed someone typing everything the judge, lawyers, and witnesses say in a courtroom. That’s the stenographer.

So it’s the ideal subject matter for a tap dancing number as you tip tap away at your typewriter and that’s exactly the idea behind this number in my Youth Theatre’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  In this scene Millie walks the stenography test.

(It’s 1922.)

Millie (Emily Jackson) had sadly lost her voice on the day I filmed the rehearsal.

 

Whiplash – movie review


WHIP_INTL_1Sht_Lk2_LYRD

As the end credits rolled I let out an uncontrollable cheer and burst into spontaneous applause.

It wasn’t a film festival premiere, it was a cold Saturday matinee in Edinburgh in early January.

But I had been emotionally unravelled.  I’d been through the wringer and had come out the other end a whooping fan boy.

Exhausted, I staggered from the cinema gasping for breath.  How on earth could a movie about a Jazz teacher and his drumming protege elicit such a visceral reaction? It’s hard to say why because on the surface (subject aside) there is little that’s fundamentally original about the movie’s structure.  But what there is, is two absolutely gut-wrenching and enthralling performances that smash your emotions all over the cinema.  Hits to the solar plexus are about the size of it.

The story concerns the relationship between a 19 year old drumming major in his first year at North America’s best music conservatory and his desire to succeed at almost any cost in carving out a springboard and a shop window for a future career as a ‘Lincoln Centre’ core member.

His tutor is, if anything, even more focused than he is, and certainly as unforgiving and intolerant of anything less than perfection as it’s possible to be.

The result is a fascinating emotional power struggle, shot through with manipulation by both protagonists.

Much has been said about JK Simmons’ barbaric performance as the tutor and Jazz Studio conductor who has expectations the height of Everest.  But far less credit has been given to the equally powerful turn by his pupil played by Miles Teller.  Simmons simply could not have achieved the heights he has without this perfect foil.

The film smoulders from the opening scene and aside from Simmons and Teller pretty much nothing else matters (other than Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich et al whose canon of work is electrifyingly brought to life by the Studio Jazz Band that Teller so wants, no needs, to join).

Much of it consists of boot camp scenarios where imperfections are punished again and again and again.  It’s these scenes that create the unbearable tension.  But punctuating these are the human side of it – like Teller’s inability to build any relationships at all, other than with his single father.  Drumming is always more important.  And not just drumming; but drumming fame.

Do not let the subject matter put you off.

Do not let the fact that this is a jazz infused hour and a half, much of it in performance put you off.

This really is a very special movie indeed and fully deserves a straight ten rating.

Joan as Policewoman’s new cracker


On the subject of female singer songwriters…here’s another one.

The second album by Joan as Policewoman will not go down well if you don’t like jazz. So don’t even go there. It isn’t an outright Jazz album, but it certainly leans in that general direction. She comes from a great musical stock having first come to my attention as one of Antony and the Johnston’s band members. And is currently supporting Rufus Wainwright who puts in an appearance on the new album. She was Jeff Buckley’s bird you know.

Her debut, ‘Real Life’ last year firmly put her on the map in her own right

The new one, ‘To survive’ is an absolute peach. Languid, free-flowing and lush with unconventional song structures. It’s not all verse-chorus and makes for a very easy listening experience

Great with a good book and a glass of red wine.

Try this for size – from Real life.

]

Melody Gardot


Saw this cracking new Jazz singer at The Voodoo Lounge last night.  She was knocked over by a Jeep a couple of years ago which has affected both her sight and her ability to walk, vbut this just addsan air of mystique to her personality.

She performed a very intimate (short) set with her band consisting of trumpet, drums and bass under two fixed red spots which gave it a really old fashioned Jazzy feel. all it needed was for everyone in the audience to be smoking and we’d have been transported to a New York Basement Bar circa 1956.

Anyway, a superb singer that had the fortune not to have been beaten by the ugly stick.

To be honest I thought the choice of live songs meant she was better live than she is on her album; Worriesome Heart.

But it’s pretty good nonetheless.

The very best of Ethiopiques


Sometimes a record comes along that literally blows your mind.

This is it.

It’s a collection of the Ethiopian club music scene of Addis Ababa circa 1968 – 74. And it’s unique, hypnotic, sexy, trance-like because the rythms are so un-western.  Yet it adopts western influences of jazz and soul and meshes them with military precision (many of the artists are from the Ethiopian army bands) and African mystery.

It is actually, to die for.  OK, some tracks fail to quite mesh with my westernised ear – but not many.

Unquestionably my album of the year so far.

You can hear more (and read all about) here!

Needless to say, the kids hate it.


An independent station, WJAZ


Och I know my love of Donald Fagen is not widely shared but I stumbled upon this after a long night on the keyboards.  It is not a great video.  In fact it is fairly bad.  But what a great song.  The older I get the further it creeps up my top 100. It’s well into the top ten now.

Cue funeral music.

]

Star Wars. The Cool version.


I’m not a particularly great fan of Star Wars but I’ve seen enough of the movies to know that this is quite a sweet touch. It’s based on the premise of transporting the credits of the whole franchise back to the 60’s and I am grateful to Dennis the Menace for bringing it to my attention.

]

The Penguin Cafe Orchestra


By now, dear reader you will have worked out that I like the odd song.  You’ll know that I am a music enthusiast and you’ll be aware that I do not hold back in the superlatives department.

It came to my attention however that I have never blogged and shared with you my love for Penguin Cafe Orchestra.  The prompt came from a member of the South Queensferry Arts Festival committee of which I am chairman.  (How esteemed I must be; you must think.)

Anyway, at home alone tonight and watching dull football I thought I’d trawl youtube for some PCO stuff.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, let me drool.

I love PCO.

Thinking about my relationship with them it may outstrip any other band or performer  I love:  The Clash,  The Cure, The Stranglers, Belle and Sebastian, New Order, Aimee Mann, Tom Waits – all have, at times, had profound effects on me and most are very long term – but for some reason PCO are more visceral, more important.

Perhaps it’s because their leader Simon Jeffes died so young (of a brain tumour before he was 50) and out of respect they were shelved (until recently).

Perhaps it is because they make the most beautiful music ever.  The aforementioned bands might not merit descriptors that could be widely aknowledged as beautiful.

I believe PCO can.

Yes, some people say to me “get that shite off”.

I pity them.

PCO is a profound and beautiful musical experience.  The PCO may be the greatest thing ever to happen to music.

But you can be the judge of that.

This particular tune (they only ever did one “song” on their first album) is called Music for a Lost Harmonium and features a harmonium.

Uncommon, lilting, infectious.  I may love the Harmonium as much as I love PCO.

]

Shine by Joni Mitchell


joni-mitchell.jpg

I love Joni Mitchell!

Fact.

Although, I feel I am too young to be this devoted.

After all, she is old enough to be my mother. That said, you can’t ignore class. The Beatles coulda been my Grandads; the Stones too.

Jimi?

Well, he’d just be a badly influential uncle.

Joni is pure and utter class. And she has ‘classes’ of fans, her folk fans, her Jazz fans, her in-betweeni fans.

I’m one of them. The inbetweeni.

And this is one of those albums. Closest call in her past life? Hejira!

mitchelljoni-shine.jpg

The album opens with a two chord piano riff that takes your breath away. It is possibly the perfect opening stance. Two aces in a Texas Hold ’em.

The song (well it’s an instrumental) recalls a beautiful summer day and it is the best piece of music I have heard this year, bar none. The fact that it is instrumental is, I think, a brilliant holding device because how will Joni sound when she finally sings after a self imposed ten year retirement from the music scene?

Growly, gruff, mature, wondrous. That’s how she sounds.

The album is self assured, beautiful and flawed. Her 21st century take on Big Yellow Taxi that is the centrepiece of this great album doesn’t work for me, because it lacks the youthful rebellion of its inception.

‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling is given an interpretation that I think comes off, just.

But, overall, if I was 65, retired 10 years and making a comeback, this is how I’d like to do it.

Think Eric Cantona Playing for Man Utd in the Champions League and scoring a hatrick.

Then again. Think Joni Mitchell at the top of her game.

5 star. No doubt.

And, you know what. This confirms that Canada is music country of the year. If you are in any doubt check it out here.