The Reaper’s War
The Squinty Bridge
Michael Butcher – Alto sax, soprano sax
Andrew Baker – Tenor sax
Peter Johnstone – Piano
Brodie Jarvie – Acoustic bass
John Lowrie – Drums
The Scottish jazz scene is in robust health as far as the quality of its musicians is concerned. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and The Scottish
National Youth Jazz Orchestra respectively continue to win plaudits, as do a number of individual talents and significant groups. Here we have an example
of that continuing excellence: a disc featuring the first graduating students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s first full-time jazz course, the
first ever in Scotland. That influential figure, Tommy Smith, is Professor and Artistic Director of Jazz there. Five gifted young musicians, then, help to
showcase each other’s compositions and instrumental ability, and the result is a pleasure to hear.
is the longest track at 13 minutes 35 seconds and presents the composer - Peter Johnstone - on piano, together with bassist Brodie Jarvie and John Lowrie
on drums. Johnstone says that this is a work in progress, since it dates from the second year of his four-year course and has been constantly fine-tuned
since then. However, leaving aside the fact that authentic jazz rarely sounds the same twice, there seems little sign of the need for further improvement.
Indeed, the track is something of a tour de force. There is a delicate piano introduction to the theme, gradually picking up in speed and volume
with Johnstone proving himself a versatile practitioner of keyboard skills, supported by unobtrusive but stylish drumming from Lowrie and an extended and
effective bass solo. The piece builds up to a powerful climax and repays repeated listening.
The Reaper’s War
(by Brodie Jarvie) is titled for a revolt against Spanish oppression of the Catalan peasantry in 1640. A saxophone duo opens this atmospheric melody with
more than a hint of melancholy about it. They are joined by the piano and then some sensitive drum and bass work follows. There are some beautiful moments
before the saxophones and a pensive piano conclude the track. The Squinty Bridge (or The Clyde Arc to give it its proper name) has a
distinctly boppish flavour to it, and is described by composer John Lowrie as basically ‘two blues melodies in two different keys’, effectively camouflaged
by the harmonic progression. This swings along nicely as the group collectively strut their stuff. The Event begins with a waif-like alto and
after a leisurely start, increasingly swings, indeed romps, along. Michael Butcher (who wrote the tune) is to the fore, but with dynamic piano from
Johnstone accompanied by a sturdy bass line and drumming which propels the group. The Hurricane, written by the gifted tenor player Andrew Baker,
was inspired by the experience of a very windy evening and the contrast between the storm outside and the calm and comfort inside the house. I liked this a
lot – evocative, slow, moody, with Baker extemporising inventively and yet another thoughtful bass solo from Brodie Jarvis.
In all then, a very listenable and enjoyable disc featuring five musicians who can play and write, who are a credit to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
and fitting heirs to the tradition.