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Mai Jazz 2014

John Kelman By

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Smith's own career has been on the ascendance since returning to Scotland in the late '80s, his most recent recording with his Scottish National Jazz Orchestra— American Adventure (Spartacus, 2014)—on the cusp of US release this summer and the record that, with the participation of a host of American guests including saxophonist Dave Liebman, trumpeter Randy Brecker, guitarist Mike Stern and vibraphonist Joe Locke, is poised to bring him and his flagship orchestra the attention it deserves on this side of the pond. Some of his best playing on his own recordings can be found on Torah—a suite of music written for (and first performed live by) Joe Lovano, but ultimately recorded by Smith as featured soloist—but it's with Andersen's trio that he seems to fully let loose, with a pair of musicians who understand how to respect structure while, at the same time, using it as a jumping off point for some individual and collective improvisations that, by the end of the set, had moved from incendiary to positively nuclear, with the exception of the near-primal "Raijin," where he switched to Shakuhachi flute, and "Reparate," a tune defined by Andersen's use of a looping device to create soft layers of arco bass over which he could solo with even softer lyricism, a tune also redolent of the Norwegian folk tradition.

It was a tremendous finish to a great festival, and a trip that saw—with Estonia's Jazzkaar Festival and Bremen's Jazzahead! trade fair and showcase—four weeks of travel that meant crossing the Atlantic not twice but four times. With a 5:30AM pickup for the airport the next morning, it was also a grueling way to end a long overdue return to Stavanger, but it was a small price to pay for a week of outstanding music, some of the best treatment by a festival staff ever, and a chance to return to one of the country's most dramatic fjords. What's a little fatigue when compared to that?


Photo Credit: John Kelman

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