And All That Jazz!
Moira Mackay looks at two musicians bringing their distinctive style of music to the byways
Ian Millar and Dominic Spencer are a sax and piano duo from Edinburgh who for the past five years have been dedicated to their own particular brand of missionary work among the rural Caledonian natives,spreading the intimate atmosphere of jazz clubs to neglected, out-ofthe-way venues dotted around the countryside and not used to such sophisticated fare. They play classic jazz standards as well as original compositions, have been regulars at festivals and have just completed a successful Highland tour, bringing their special brand of music-making to many a remote outpost. They relish their own particular style with the emphasis being on lyrical improvisations,tuneful explorations and lots of interaction. Whether playing a fast,powerful,driving piece or a subtle, atmospheric ballad, their approach is always to play as melodically as possible;and their appeal is to a wide audience, as packed halls have appreciatively proved. Their new CD ‘The Isle of Skye’, with 14 original compositions,has just been released and was recorded at Carlops village in the Borders, while their debut CD, ‘Echoing Rocks’, contained a dozen tracks and was a popular seller a couple of years ago. Their love of the music comes across to the patrons of their concerts, some of whom have not experienced such nights out since the heydays of the Glasgow jazz scene of 40 years ago.
Their arrangements are alternately fresh and invigorating and also soft and calming, while Ian’s lyrical tenor sax is well supported by Dominic’s intricate piano runs,each giving the other space to play well-crafted solos. Commented Ian, “We have been performing in village halls, arts centres, small theatres, galleries and even the occasional church in many rural communities. “We certainly know our country now much better than before we started touring. By going down minor roads to out-of-the-way spots we have met lots of different folk in all the airts and pairts,from Knoydart to Eigg,from Plockton to Balquhidder, from Montrose to Dumfries, we have found a happy,intimate atmosphere playing in venues where everyone seems to know each other. There is an audience out there to be catered for;and they create a special feeling and leave us with warm memories when we think of their enthusiasm.” The pair love to conjure up the ambience of an intimate jazz club with cabaret-style seating, candle-lit halls and stage lighting in the unlikeliest of settings. Dominic recalled,“We’ve had a few mishaps on the road. On one occasion all the lights and heating went off in an ancient hall,plunging us into darkness shot through with slow handclaps, and we had to put some coins into an old meter to get the electricity working again,once we
managed to locate it in the dark,that is. “Another time we had booked a village hall without actually seeing it and turned up to find there was no village,only the hall in the middle of nowhere. However, it served the far-flung area and the audience soon drifted in by dribs and drabs and we then had a really good night. “Some of these halls have never heard jazz before,while others are so remote I doubt if they have seen performers in years. “The older the hall the better the acoustics and the atmosphere. Some of the more modern venues have real problems with sound reproduction and on occasion we have had horrendous echoes to deal with. “Rural audiences are also more appreciative and quieter,whereas in the cities the scene can be raucous.” The duo also produce Jazz in Scotland, a website guide;and a printed monthly leaflet with listings,news and features.It can be obtained from Jazz in Scotland, 15 Windsor Square, Penicuik,Midlothian EH26 8ES. Scottish Memories readers can get absolutely free - a sample CD,with five tracks introducing the duo’s special, melodic,improvisational style. Readers can obtain their free copy by e-mailing their address to email@example.com or writing in an order and it will be sent out post free. Sounds of Scotland New releases reviewed by Bobby Harvey
IS IT VERY FAR TO HEIDELBERG FROM HERE? Haggerdash. HD002.
This is a very unusual but also listenable release from a good Glasgow folk group from the wilds of Shettleston. With Davy Logan on lead banjo,mandolin and dobro and the rest of the band using all different combinations,it has plenty of variety both in sound and lyrics. The cheery title song is from fellow banjo folkie Ian McIntosh and is one of the many wee gems on this C.D. There is plenty of guid Scots vernacular in many of them and overall it makes for a really lively performance. The vocals from Davy Lees and Billy Stewart are no-holds- barred belters and they all seem to be enjoying every minute of this lively recording and this comes through to the listener with some force. (Available from www.haggerdash.co.uk)
Spring Breaks at the Abbot’s Brae Hotel, Dunoon 4* Luxury small hotel with stunning views over the Firth of Clyde
Stay for 3 nights and get a 4th free
Dinner, bed and full
DORNEY ROCK. Kevin MacLeod. CDTRAX302.
This is the Occasionals’mandolinist’s third album and if you like the sound of bouzouki,guitar and mandolin,this is a cracker for you. The standard of playing is of the highest and with players of the calibre of Alec Finn of De Dannan,Orkney’s Kris Drever and Luke Plumb,the Tasmanian maestro,you can understand the virtuosity which a combination like this produces. The material is a mixture of Scottish,Irish and a few original compositions which always makes me cautious. However,this does gel into a fine production. (Available from www.greentrax.com)
BAIRNS KIST. Christina Stewart. FB003.
A fantastic collection of Scottish childrens songs from Christina who, apart from singing the words,teaches the wee ones the actions handed down through the traditional methods. In the accompanying sleeve notes,she explains every movement for parents and teachers to follow at home. With help from the Scottish Arts Council,the Highland Council and the Care and Learning Alliance,this would be an excellent C.D.for every child in Scotland. It is the songs your granny used to sing to you and,with 25 tracks,I can highly recommend this as one of the finest examples of traditional toddlers songs ever. (Available from firstname.lastname@example.org)
Visit our website at www.abbotsbrae.co.uk to view our beautiful rooms.
Phone now to book. 01369 705021
Call now for our room rates. Offer open to
June 30th .
Come and visit Dunoon and the surrounding areas.