It’s a busy three months ahead for tireless saxophonist/educator/bandleader Tommy Smith and his crew of Scottish jazzmen as he leads the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra on three tours to mark the ensemble’s 20th anniversary. The calibre of whichhighlights just how far the stellar big band has come, from unfunded pipedream to world-class ensemble tackling all manner of works frequently in collaboration with international star guests.

On this note, their celebratory program is no exception. This weekend sees the first of orchestra’s tribute concerts to Billy Strayhorn, perennial arranger for Duke Ellington, who quietly penned many jazz classic including ‘Take the A Train’ and the lush ‘Peer Gynt’ explorations. Then fast-forward to May where American vocalist Kurt Elling takes Sinatra for a spin in honour of the Rat Packer’s centenary on the SNJO’s ‘Swings Sinatra’ programme. This is followed shortly after in June by the premier of SNJO’s ‘Alba’, a suite of Scottish songs featuring singer Eddi Reader.

Strayhorn dates are The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (20 Feb); The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm (21 Feb) and Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow (22 Feb). SNJO and Kurt Elling dates are: Sage, Gateshead (20 May); Caird Hall, Dundee (21 May); Music Hall, Aberdeen (22 May); Usher Hall, Edinburgh (23 May) and City Halls, Glasgow (24 May). The ‘Alba’ concert tour with singer Eddi Reader takes place in June in the Highlands and Scottish Islands.

For more info go to snjo.co.uk/

– Tommie Black-Roff

Dublin’s National Concert Hall hosts a new international jazz weekend from 10to 12 April, heralding, its organisers hope, the beginning of a new era of improvised music in Ireland. In association with well-established Note Productions, April Jazz welcomes a tantalising array of world-renowned artists including The Bad Plus, Tomasz Stańko, Ernst Reijseger and Anouar Brahem.

Rubbing shoulders too are home grown artists like Sean Mac Erlaine, Sue Rynhart (pictured top right) and OKO, plus the premiere of Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe’s new composition for improvising musicians titled 13 Vices. There’s also a unique collaboration between Irish vocal quintet Silver Kites and Berlin-based HÜTTE.

The festival, the first of its kind in Dublin for over a decade, poignantly arrives 80 years after the infamous anti-jazz Public Dance Halls Act and its associated depression-era crackdown. April Jazz takes its place alongside Cork Jazz Festival, 12 Points!, and numerous smaller happenings, offering further proof of a healthy and burgeoning Irish jazz scene.

– Tommie Black-Roff

See the NCH website for tickets and more info www.nch.ie

robin-eubanksA special concert entitled Ode to the Human Spirit, featuring The Human Revolution Orchestra with guest trombonist Robin Eubanks, will mark the third UNESCO World Jazz Day on 30 April at the Union Chapel, London. Originally initiated by pianist and well-known Buddhist Herbie Hancock, the day seeks to celebrate jazz as a symbol of unity and peace.

The Human Revolution Orchestra, which aims to symbolise positive change through respectful and spontaneous collaboration, features US trombonist (and fellow Buddhist) Robin Eubanks, whose CV includes work as key contributor to the Dave Holland Quintet/Big Band.

– Jamie Fyffe

For more info and tickets go to www.unionchapel.org.uk

Last November’s EFG London Jazz Festival concluded with a compelling double bill at the Royal Festival Hall to mark the 75th anniversary of the iconic Blue Note label. The evening featured an all-star band of the new generation of players on its roster with guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott.

But the evening began with a spellbinding double piano duet between Robert Glasper and Jason Moran – who began by playing a Fats Waller-esque stride blues before spiralling off into an inspired hour of continuous improvisation that concluded with a suitably ethereal take on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’. For many festival goers this was among the highlights of the ten-day event.

The hour-long duo performance was recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz On 3 and will be broadcast on Monday 16 February at 11pm. The programme also includes an
exclusive interview with both pianists who were put to the MP3 Shuffle test: putting their iPods on random mode and seeing what tracks come up and using them as the spark for conversation, with some interesting musical choices cropping up from the likes of Drake, Kim Burrell, Gregory Porter and Otha Turner.

– Mike Flynn
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

The programme can be found here on the Radio 3 website and there’s a preview clip of the interview below

Hot on the heels of the launch of their album Old Fashion at the Vortex in January, singer songwriter Fumi Okiji and her Old Time Jazz Band continue their tour dates across England this month. Should you chance upon this promising new outfit in the agrarian backwaters, expect to hear Okiji’s finely measured, confident vocals eloquently and subtly fleshed out by her band of cellist Ben Davis, guitarist Stuart Hall, drummer Roy Dodds and clarinettist Idris Rahman.

With northern England and the Welsh borders under their gig-laden belts this brazenly retro outfit now bring their nostalgic flair to the south and east from Cornwall to Lincolnshire at the following venues: Village Hall, Charlton Horethorne (12 Feb); Commemoration Hall, West Coker, Yeovil (13 Feb); Curry Mallet, Taunton (14 Feb); The Village Hall, Nancegollan, Helston (24 Apr); Jubilee Hall, Warleggan, Bodmin (25 Apr); North Rural Community Centre, Muskham, Newark (7 May); Northwick Arms Hall, Ketton, Rutland (8 May) and North Thoresby Village Hall, East Lindsey (9 May).

– Tommie Black-Roff

For more info and tickets got to www.fumiokiji.co.uk/live/


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