MUSIC SCOTTISH NATIONAL JAZZ ORCHESTRA USHER HALL ★★★ ★★
THIS International Festival appearance by Tommy Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra was a milestone event.
Fifteen years old, and welltested in mainstream jazz circles, here was Scotland’s hotshot jazz corporate taking its place among the world’s Classical elite as part of the Usher Hall music programme.
There was sufficient context to make sense of it all – the reappearance from earlier in the Festival (with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) of Gunther Schuller, who opened the show directing the contained ecstasy of trumpeter Kenny Rampton and the SNJO in Gil Evans’s harnessed arrangement of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess; and a quite different version – Tommy Smith’s own – of the same composer’s Rhapsody
in Blue, which had appeared in a no less unconventional guise in that earlier RSNO programme.
Schuller restricted his presence to the first half. He talked a lot, but given his firsthand association with everyone that ever mattered, Miles Davis among them, this wasn’t uninteresting.
As for the music, the muted detail of Evans’s Gershwin soon gave way to the freer expression of Ellington numbers, and the unlikely sophistication of an added string quartet in Harry James’s version of The Mole.
If the SNJO ever seemed tethered by Schuller’s schoolmasterly control of the Gershwin, Smith took back the reins for a second half that seemed natural ground for the band’s cohesive virtuosity. Smith’s pal, Joe Lovano, was the centrepiece guest, molten and mutually compatible.
Just a pity the evening went on a bit too long.