Saturday, August 8, 2015

BIG BANDS: Colin Steele's Stramash

A change from some recent jottings, as I ease myself back into something at least resembling a comfort zone, avoiding the scatter gun of chuck everything at the browser, hoping some will stick of recent weeks. And, astonishingly, given my floundering ill-preparedly in the sea of big band jazz, this is partly jazz. But partly folk, with a tinge of classical chamber string quartet for good measure, and altogether the best damn piece of recorded music of the last decade. Sure, yeah, and other opinions are available but bear with me. It'll be worth it, I promise.

Colin Steele is a Scottish trumpeter. Trumpet to me is an instrument I always despised, smacking of the worst excesses of jazz, which to me, as a boy, meant Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Or it meant the hideous over instrumentation of 60s pop, wherein any and every band had to smothered in brass and strings. Even 'cool' bands ruined their reputations, Love and the Byrds for two, with the infernal parping I now know and love. Strangely, I can't claim it was Miles and Chet that put me right, although, ultimately, they did, it was more Chumbawamba who bludgeoned me into an acceptance of a trumpets worth. Anyhoo, Steele started his career in the late 80s, tinkering in the ranks of maverick Scots experimental soul boys, Hue and Cry, as they threw jazz and Latin into an ever smoother mix. Tiring of that and traveling through Europe, predominantly France, where bebop is still a potent groove, picking up more echoes of funk and worldbeat to his repertoire, he then formed his Quintet, up to now largely orthodox jazz, albeit well-received and acclaimed, within the minnow pool of UK jazz. This is by now the early years of this century. Jazz musicians traditionally don't make money from their muse, relying on outside projects to butter their bread, coming into contact with musicians from other spheres, and there has been a noble tradition of folk-jazz fusion in Scotland. Steele has thus found himself in the ranks of Scottish dance band, the wonderfully named Ceilidh Minogue and the unclassifiable The Unusual Suspects, themselves who could have been a shoo-in for this fortnights theme. But never had their been anything with with solo trumpet as a lead instrument.

"Stramash" burst into being after a visit to the Festival Interceltique, L'Orient in France, 2008, having immersed himself in Islay island life to prepare this immaculate gem. The folk purists at this meeting of the Celtic nations initially turned their noses up at this jazz trumpeter invading their domain, but not for long. The record followed in 2009, and was garlanded with accolades, becoming the Guardian national newspapers Jazz album of that year. Here's a wonderful review from All About Jazz. "Stramash" is a Scottish word meaning commotion or kerfuffle and is so apposite for the joyful ensemble pieces that flit between genre, effortlessly interwoven and interlinked. Enough of this, ye'll be wanting some music. Trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums? Check. String quartet? Check. Fiddle and bagpipes? Check.....

3 consummate excerpts. I request you, nay, I require you to tarry no longer,
Buy it!!!!

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