The Scotsman - - Bookfestival -

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.


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