In Search of Duke

As the Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra make their Scottish debut, Kenny Mathieson considers the lasting influence of the greatest of all jazz composers, and the big band format he was so instrumental in developing.

Evert now. live decades on from the reign of big band swing in the 30s and 40s. it is not difficult to fathom the enduring appeal of the form. The big band is jazz's equivalent of the symphony orchestra. offering sonic majesty. a greatly expanded range of instrumental textures and colours. increased scope for arrangers and composers. and every opportunity to showcase great (and not so great) improvisers.

The lure of the big band has proved irresistible for musicians in every phase ofjazz history. from the later stages of traditional jazz through the swing era itself. and into modern jazz in all its forms. from bebop to free jazz. However economically unfeasible. the jazz big band has refused to fade away. and while some have settled for simple nostalgia. others continue to find fresh ways to present the music. and a few even attempt to define new paths for it.

Duke Ellington defined more such paths than anyone. and the Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra will pay tribute to Duke‘s genius in their half of the Jazz Festival Gala Concert (followed by a tnore informal gig at appropriately enough The Cotton

Club). l‘ormed last year by Pete Long. who leads the band from his seat in the saxophone section. they are dedicated to re-crcating an authentic version of that rich. complex Ellington sound. with some assistance from special guests Scott Hamilton. Doc Chcatham. Humphrey Lyttclton. and Dick Hyman.

That. however. is no easy task. lillington‘s magistcrial. innovative jazz explorations and particular compositional genius were bound up with the specific performers of his music in a way which has few parallels in classical composition. The piano was his instrument. but in a wider sense it was really the orchestra which he played. and the distinctive textural and tonal qualities of his music were crucially forged from the highly individual sounds of the men who played them.

l’ree jazz pianist Cecil 'l'aylor. who brielly ran his own experimental big band. once pointed out to me how interesting it was that ‘when other people have attempted to play Ellington's so-called arrangements. the

Echoes oi Ellington: recreating lluke

sound was never quite the same.‘ Ellington. he asserted. was developing

a sound world as personal as - although

radically different from - that of John Cage. and the individuality of his great soloists. Men like Johnny Hodges. Barney Bigard. Harry Carney. Cootie Williams. and the rest. had their part to play in that alchemy.

Despite that. there are no shortage of those eager to take on the Ellington songbook. and many of his tunes have passed into the standard repertoire. After Duke's death in l974. the Ellington ()rchestra itself was continued. although often rather disappointingly. by his son Mercer.

until his death earlier this year. Clearly.

none of this will deter Pete Long and his collaborators from giving it their all. and the early indications in the reception given to their initial live concerts and self-produced debut Cl). Mum Slam. suggest that they may well be on the right track. W await their arrival with expectant interest. Festival Theatre. Wu! 7. 8pm; (‘ullmt Club. Thurs 8. /().3()pm and /l.45pm.

W Soul sister

Ann Peebles: back In the groove

The best laid plans, etc. The presses had barely begun printing the Jazz Festival programme when Rutus Thomas was obliged to withdraw irom the poweriul Memphis Legends package which opens the Blues Festival. The veteran soul and blues man was involved in a car crash back in America, and his doctor advised that he pull out oi his scheduled European dates.

All is iar irom lost, however. The Memphis theme is maintained by the late addition oi Andrew love and Wayne Jackson, better known under their collective title oi The Memphis Horns, in which guise they have brightened up countless albums and stage shows. They will team up with English band Out oi the Blue to round out a show dedicated to the steamy iusion oi soul, blues, and rhythm and blues which makes up the ioundation oi Memphis’s distinctive musical stew.

The other hall oi that bill will ieature a singer who looked set to become one oi the iorgotten women oi the Memphis scene tor a while, but, has bounced back in line style. Ann

Peebles once vied with the great Al Green tor the title oi soul guru Willie Mitchell’s greatest discovery, and her early 70s hits ior his iamous Hi Records label, like ‘l’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse llown’ and the inimitable ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, remain classics oi the genre. Peebles, like many others at that time, was sucked into the disco morass, and eventually took a long, sell-imposed sabbatical beiore returning to the tray in the late 805, when she recorded an album ior Mitchell’s Wayglo label, Call Me, and toured with the Memphis Soul Revue. The experience was enough to encourage her back into music in"- time. She signed with Bullseye Blues, an oiishoot oi the Rounder Records iamlly, and has cut two classy albums ior them in the present decade, Full Time Love in 1993, and the recent Fill This World With Love, ieaturing, as it happens, the Memphis Horns alongside a couple oi other special guests, including Mavis Staples and Shirley Brown. (Joe Alexander) The Cavendish, Fri 9, 7.30pm.

BE}— Blues bre

Holmes Brothers: never too late

The Holmes Brothers story is a strange one. The band became an overnight success with the release oi their debut album, In The Spirit, in 1989, and a string oi increasingly prestigious engagements iollowed. So what’s unusual about that, I hear you ask? True, it happens all the time, but not oiten to musicians who have been around ior the best part oi 30 years.

The actual Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, hail irom Christchurch, Virginia. Shaman iirst made his way to Hew York in 1959, and began picking up gigs on bass. He ietched his kid brother a couple oi years later, and they played in various bands in the 60s and 705, sometimes with drummer and ialsetto vocalist Willie ‘Popsy’ Dixon, a transplanted Virginian brought up in Brooklyn.

The trio began gigging as The Holmes Brothers in 1980, while still holding down day jobs to take care oi these niggling little necessities like paying the rent and putting the kids through school. In the process, they evolved a unique blend oi canonical American musical iorms, moving easily through blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, soul and country within any given set.

‘We didn’t have no record player at home,’ Shaman recalls, ‘but we heard all kinds oi music every time it came on the radio, and that‘s where that comes irtln. Sometimes some oi the parts and stuii didn’t quite meld because you didn’t really hear them right, so we sort oi developed our own way oi playing them.’

The band built up a reputation by sheer hard work, until they came to the attention oi producer Andy Breslau, who helped to launch them onto a new level alter a couple oi decades oi playing dues. It may be that, as Sherman claims, ‘we never really looked ior that kind oi recognition - we were just happy to be playing, period’, but it seems the big time is here to stay tor the band. And, yes, they did quit the day jobs. (Kenny Mathieson)

The Cavendish, Sun 11, mm.

. £3.17; 90198:. LEFTFIELB


S£E PAGE 58'.

The List 26 Jul-8 Aug I996 37 l