The Edinburgh International Jazz Festival kicks off the city’s month long festival extravaganza with a new look this year. Check out the action in our festival preview.
The world on a six- string
RALPH TOWNER has carved out a unique place in the contemporary jazz guitar hierarchy, and makes an overdue return to Scotland as the climax of the festival programme. Words: Kenny Mathieson
The jazz festival programme at the Queen‘s llall (almost) begins and ends with two of the great names of contemporary jazz guitar. John Scofield brings in a fabulous trio. with Steve Swallow on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. on the first Saturday. and Ralph Towner will play one of his celebrated solo recitals on the final one.
While Scofield has always been associated with electric guitar. his last album. Quiet (Verve). saw him turn to acoustic guitar and an expanded ensemble. Ralph Towner. on the other hand. has made his name as one of the very few jazz guitarists to specialise entirely in acoustic fingerstyle technique on both classical and IZ—string guitars.
‘The kind of electric guitar that exists now wasn‘t really around when l was a kid. and the standard jazz guitar always sounded a little sleepy to me.‘ says Towner. ‘l was more attracted to piano until I ran into classical guitar when l was 22. and it had the quality and versatility that I liked. I made the decision to really study it in a serious way. but the electric never really came into the picture ~— I don‘t even know how to hold a pick. to be honest. and to me. it is another instrument entirely.‘
The guitarist is celebrating a 25-year association with Manfred Eicher‘s liC‘M Records this year. The label has issued all seventeen of his albums as leader. and he likens that continuity to the relationship between writer and publisher. making sly reference to that analogy in the title of his latest album. Ana. which is ‘a Latin name for a miscellaneous literary collection‘.
Towner has also been a member of ()regon since the band‘s foundation in WW. and has recorded another dozen albums with them. including a new disc. iV'iii‘I/ni't'si Passage (Intuition). scheduled for an autumn release. ‘l‘hat relationship with oboist Paul McCandless and bassist (ilen Moore (the other
52 THEUST 25 Jul Hing l99/
‘The electric guitar never really came into the picture ~— I don't
even know how to hold a pick,
to be honest.’ Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner: belongs to that rare breed. the acoustic jazz musician
founder. percussionist Collin Waleott. was killed in a car crash in 1984. and ‘l‘rilok Gurtu took his place for several years) has been a particularly productive one.
‘We have used two percussionists on the record. and we will tour with one of them.‘ says Towner. ‘We are still going very strong. simply because it has remained challenging and interesting. and both the music and our friendships have bound us together over the years. It would be hard to find a group so committed to a body of music. and the possibilities really seem to be endless.‘
While guitar is ‘the instrument I really practice‘. he is also adept at piano (which he began at the age of three) and various synthesizers. and can play trumpet and French born as well. Despite that classical training. and his dual status as a composer of classical symphonies. his playing is based on a classic jazz concept.
‘I would say that a large percentage of it comes out of the Bill Evans era. and that way of playing.‘ says Towner. ‘Most of my guitar style is derived from piano playing and jazz trios. and I don‘t think you could play my music if you were not a jazz musician. with that particular knowledge of
jaw harmony and scales. because so much of it
comes from that language. Rhythmically. I look more widely for inspiration. to Brazilian music and so on. while the classical influence lies more in the delivery. and the variety of the actual sound of the instrument.‘
Ralph Towner plays at the Queen's Hall on Sat 9 Aug. John Scofield plays the Queen's Hall, Sat 2 Aug.
Cotton Club, Wed 6Aug; Tron Jazz Cellar, Sat 9 Aug.
Violet Leighton launched her debut CD during this year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival. Speak Low was recorded in Glasgow with what is essentially guitarist Nigel Clark’s regular band, minus saxman Tim Garland. The album, while betraying occasional debut nerves, is a classy collection of jazz standards and the odd sophisticated pop song, so what is it doing on the dance music label, Club Scene?
‘That was really down to my manager Neil Baxter, who is a friend of the guy who owns the label,’ says Leighton. ’Neil invited him along to one of our gigs, and he liked it, so I wrote him a nice letter asking if he would like me to make an album for him, and he said yes.’
Uh-huh. Tough game, this music business, ain’t it? In fairness, though, the down-to-earth Leighton has paid her dues, and her success over the past two years has been built on a couple of false starts and a lot of enforced side-tracks. Neil Baxter notes that the album has gone down well with the record company's young staff, who find it ideal chill out material, although the studio experience was not exactly relaxing for the singer.
’l was singing rhythm and blues, and to be honest, I didn’t have a thought in my head about singing Jazz until peOple like Fraser Speirs and the late Jim Waugh started to say I should,’ says Leighton. 'I had always bought the elitist line about haying to be some kind of super-singer to handle jazz, but what finally clinched it for me at the time was when Fraser set up the chance to work With Nigel Clark.
’That was around two years ago, and Nigel has been working With me ever Since. I've done demo work and Jingles in the studio before, but this was the first time I’ve made a real record, and it was very nerve-racking. I was very conscious of the Quality of the talents I was working With, and of not wanting to let them down. I hope people take into account this is a debut album — I’ve still got an awful lot to learn.’ (Kenny lvlathieson)
Violet Leighton: welcome on the Club Scene