The Colin Steele Quintet has been producing a distinctly Scottish take on modern jazz (Celtic Jazz, if you will) since 2001. This lyrical, melodic and boldly inventive music has earned the band an enviable national and international reputation. In that time, Edinburgh-based trumpeter, composer and band-leader Colin Steele has released three quintet albums, as well as his most recent album, "Stramash" (2009), which features the exuberant playing of his folk-jazz fusion big band. Colin has also written and arranged for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Big Band and led a number of collaborative projects, including 'Stone Islands' (A Scottish-Italian joint venture) and tributes to a niumber of jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker and the Adderley Brothers.
The gig at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre Studio on 27th March was eagerly-awaited, in that it kicked off a short Scottish tour to promote the first new set of tunes Colin Steele has written for the quintet since their last album, 2005's "Through The Waves". Colin recently revealed publicly that he had encountered serious setbacks and a loss of confidence in his trumpet playing a few years ago, when his attempts to improve his technique had initially gone awry. Happily, with the support of fans and fellow musicians, Colin has regained his musical chops and, in his own view, is now playing better than ever.
The venue was completely sold out and the band received a warm and enthusiastic welcome to the stage. The latest incarnation of the Colin Steele Quintet draws, as usual, on the cream of British modern jazz talent, namely Colin Steele on trumpet; saxophonist Michael Buckley; pianist and arranger Dave Milligan; Calum Gourlay on double bass; and Stu Ritchie on drums. The first new tune, provisionally titled "I Will Wait For You", with its elegance, mellowness and concise soloing, provided an early reassurance that the Colin Steele Quintet's signature sound was as vibrant and instantly recognisable as ever. With that tricky first tune safely negotiated, the band launched into a further series of new numbers. "Kenny's Gift" was a melodic and affectionate tribute to the influence of the late, great jazz trumpeter, Kenny Wheeler.
"Robin's Song" and "Suite For Leo" were expansive compositions, featuring dramatic changes in mood and tempo and sparkling solos from all the band members. The quintet is capable of playing with both great restraint and exhilarating attack and the latter quality was in abundance on "Seven Cents A Boogie", a bluesy romp which saw the band let rip, with Colin Steele turning to the plunger mute to produce some suitably growling trumpet.
The second half of the set began with the beguiling melody of "Louis' First Gig", a familiar tune which features on both the "Through The Waves" and"Stramash" albums and was subsequently re-arranged for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Big Band. The soloing on this number was quite breathtaking, with fluid trumpet, spiralling soprano saxophone, rippling piano, pulsating double bass and drumming of subtlety and power (and a dash of humour from the irrepressible Stu Ritchie….). The classy and moving "There Are Angels" had been written to thank all who had helped Colin to overcome his periods of self-doubt a few years ago. Colin Steele has commented that, when writing, he often envisages the music being played on bagpipes and fiddles etc., rather than jazz instruments, and this was evident in the lilting and stirring melodies of "Looking For Nessie" and "Independence Song" (the latter being a subject close to Colin's heart!).
The set finished with "Down To The Wire", which although not yet recorded, was written originally for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Big Band. This tune built gradually in tempo, incorporating a muscular tenor saxophone solo, a blistering trumpet solo and some rollicking piano chords and runs, before ushering in an explosive finish. For the encore, the quintet returned to its back catalogue for the bebop groove of Slipped Disc", which opened with playful trumpet and saxophone over rolling piano chords and gave all of the players one last chance to display their solo chops.
With their individual and collective brilliance, the Colin Steele Quintet proved once again that they are one of the most original and talented bands on the contemporary jazz scene. The band is due to record a new album soon and, on this evidence, it should be a stunner.
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