Edinburgh Evening News
Live at Henry’s Jazz Cellar ****
Burt MacDonald Quintet with Harry Beckett,
"Last night was the 69-year-old trumpeter Harry Beckett's first collaboration with the Burt MacDonald Quintet – led by two of Scotland’s most distinctive jazz performers, guitarist George Burt and saxophonist Raymond MacDonald. Completing the line up for this gig were vocalist Nicola MacDonald, bassist Bill Wells and drummer Tom Bancroft.
Throughout this gig whenever Beckett pitched in a trumpet solo, you could see Burt and MacDonald marvelling over the way his improvisations provided perfect foil for their songs. Take Me Back to Appsala, written by Burt, set the bar high from the onset – kicking off 90 minutes of free-form jazz ranging from the eloquent to the explosive. At the end of the opener, Nicola MacDonald was introduced, providing velvety-voiced vocals over some wayward and arresting sax.
The next composition, Behind The Big Clock, featuring beautiful brush playing from Bancroft on drums, had more than a touch of Tom Waits about it.
Elsewhere, Down By The Sally Gardens, a song Burt composed using the words of the poet William Butler Yeats, was an example of free-flowing improvised jazz at its best. After another fierce saxophone lead-in, it melted into one of most melodic songs of the set, before improvised madness took over again.
After a short break came the evening’s standout track. On Little Train by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Beckett provided more truly great improvisation, and the drum solo was outstanding.
Another highlight came during a song called Smooth Day. In its infancy, while Nicola MacDonald was lending her creamy vocals, you’d have been forgiven for thinking this was just some straight-ahead jazz standard. Half-way in, however, Beckett and Raymond MacDonald changed the direction of the piece entirely – their furious free playing providing many exciting twists and turns.
Predictably, after one of the best jazz gigs Edinburgh has seen in some time, the musicians left the stage to applause that was long and loud."
PICK OF THE WEEK
“Flapjack” (FMR, 2006)
Raymond MacDonald (alto/soprano sax)
Neil Davidson (guitar)
“Listen Big” (Isis, 2006)
Rich in Knuckles is Raymond MacDonald, Graeme Wilson, John Burges, Christoph Reiserer (saxes)
"Something extraordinary is happening in Glasgow these days. If someone were to tell me Scotland’s second city was a new hotbed for experimental jazz/improv I would never believe it, unless of course I had heard the latest from Glasgow saxophonist Raymond MacDonald. His style and maturity as an improviser is exceptional and these two releases see him thriving in the medium of free improvisation. “Flapjack” is an excellent disc of sax-guitar free improv interchanges between two truly sympathetic musicians. MacDonald and Davidson’s approach to the music is so complimentary that it sounds as if they had been playing together for years. But even as enjoyable as this disc is, “Listen Big” is what really grabbed my attention. This is the first recording by Rich in Knuckles, a saxophone quartet that first met as part of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra project of late 2004 with Reiserer as the only one of the four not originally from Scotland. Their sound is utterly unique with an intoxicating combination of through composed music and free improvisation. It’s one of the most compelling and arresting listens I have had in some time and does much to further establish MacDonald as a leading voice in modern improvisational music.
When one combines these two releases with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra album mentioned earlier, the case for Glasgow couldn’t be stronger."