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Smiles all round as jazz fest lifts off

Nova Scotia Jazz Band escaped Somali pirates to play the opening gala concert for the Shetland Jazz Club. From left: Duncan

As they do, the Norse knights in Lerwick Town Hall’s stained glass windows glared as Jeff Merrifield’s distinctive rasp declared that miracle of determination, the first Shetland Jazz Festival, open.

How could this be? Not long ago Shetland Jazz Club was almost moribund, the committee considering its future and wondering what to do with the bank balance.

In walks Dr Jazz, suggests they splash out on a gig by his old mate Gilad Atzmon and here we are three years later…a three day jazz festival with everything from children’s events to free jazz premiers recorded live for CD – something for everyone.

Even the frustrating delays to the opening of Mareel could not hold back the wave of enthusiasm behind this real grass roots festival.

And it seems the islands are ready for it, for Lerwick Town Hall was full to the gunwales with every seat taken for an extraordinary night of entertainment.

Stained glass knights watch Norman Willmore (sax) and Max Tyler rehearse for the gala night show. Pic. Chris Brown

Back at that Gilad Atzmon gig in 2009 a young Aith lad named Norman Willmore traded riffs on his alto sax with the Israeli musical giant, who declared himself mightily impressed.

Even more impressed would Atzmon have been with his progress since then. Accompanied by equally young and impressive pianist Max Tyler, Willmore belied his youth with a beautifully fluid flight of mature jazz.

His short set ended with one self-penned number and demonstrated we’ll be hearing much more from him.

The Nova Scotia Jazz Band, familiar faces to many, were always guaranteed to delight with the effortlessly gorgeous tones of Mike Daly’s cornet and the glorious swing of John Burgess on clarinet and sax.

Claiming the Shetland invitation rescued them from a booking at a stag night for Somali pirates, they breezed through a great selection of tunes from yesteryear.

Favourite perhaps was the popular Bei Mir Bistu Shein that has survived longer than the 1932 Yiddish musical from which it derived that closed after just one season, with Burgess’ sweet clarinet leading the way.

Brass Jaw belt it out. From left: Paul Towndrow (alto sax), Ryan Quigley (trumpet), Konrad Wisniewski (tenor sax) and Allon Beauvoisin (baritone sax). Pic. Chris Brown

These guys were just great fun as they soared through standards like All of Me and Some Day You’ll Be Sorry. By the time they finished with the classic Beale Street Blues even those Norse knights were struggling to keep still.
And then it was time for the roof to really rise. Brass Jaw are a young and energetic quartet – three saxophones, one trumpet and a tornado of tunes.

They entered the hall from the back and each meandered their own way through the packed hall as they blasted away any remaining cobwebs before launching into a high octane set featuring their own and other well known numbers – we even got some Beatles.

Like a brass Fiddlers’ Bid they were masters of their instruments playing in perfect harmony…and so much fun. Pure brass, no bass or drums.

Ducks Chickens had them squawking like feathered fiends, Pulling a Quigley featured eye-watering acrobatics from Ryan Quigley on trumpet and Joe Zawinul’s Walk Tall produced a vein busting solo from tenor sax phenomenon Konrad Wiszniewski.

Scottish jazz clearly has a sense of humour it seems. Sometimes it felt like these guys were laughing into their instruments.

It’s brilliant to have such a joyful evening of entertainment to clear away the gloom of clouds and cold north winds. Dr Jazz and his team had good reason to be grinning from ear to ear by the end of the night. They’re onto a winner… even the Norse knights were nodding their approval.

More jazz events are planned all this weekend. Some are now free to enter. Details at www.shetlandjazzclub.org