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Reviews / A night of wonderful and original jazz

Influenced by Nordic folk and American country as well as our folk tunes, Willmore has made his jazz an extension of himself. Photos: Carol Jamieson

We were a little behind arriving at the scene and as we approached the venue there was already a buzz in the air, writes Carol Jamieson as she entered a packed Muckle Roe hall on Friday night.

As we entered from an inhospitable windy Shetland winters night, the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The lighting was subtle and cosy like the hall itself, in fact the Muckle Roe hall is a little like stepping back in time with it’s v-lining and small sitting room-like stage.

Once we all had had a chance to talk with friends we hadn’t seen for ages and get a drink from the bar, we all sat down in time to welcome the band onto the stage.

Led by locally grown Norman Willmore on saxophone, the band also comprised of Christos Stylianidies on trumpet, Sam Ingvorsen on double bass and Felix Ambach on drums.

They started off the night with a beautiful echoing and waltzing meander into a piece with the slight flavour of country music. Written by Norman, it was inspired by the songs of the Ness Boys and the Jamieson brothers character and style was clearly evident.

We were instantly aware that Norman’s tone had changed.  It was softer with a sonorous reedy sound (evident of Paul Desmond) although, as the night unfolded we were treated to the more harsh tones attributed to Parker and Coleman.

The second piece, another waltz time, had a catchy main theme and a march-like approach on the drums during the head. Although very occasionally you may have felt the absence of a chord instrument, on the whole the music had a fresh and airy feel with every note and nuance clearly heard and appreciated helped by Tim Matthew’s excellent sound work throughout the night. Tim was also recording the event for a live album which will be available soon.

Sip Sorrow From The Cup started with ‘bing bongs’ and slid effortlessly into the first of the Bach-like constructions with beautiful sax-trumpet pairings in this soulful stroll through a thoughtfully constructed sadness.

The overall tone of the night was to seduce us with clearly Scandinavian folk and Hardanger fiddle influence as well as a flavour of the Appalachian Mountains. These influences were carefully formed and constructed using free jazz and influences from home as well as further afield.

The night was consistently peppered by enthusiastic applause at the end of every solo. The enthusiasm only grew as the night continued and the audience became more aware that they were being treated to a night of wonderfully constructed and very original jazz.

Muckle Roe hall was packed on Friday night.

Norman’s arrangement of Has Your Love Grown Cold For Me gave us a more traditional treatment of an old standard showing that the boys were also accomplished in the classics. This piece started at a sedate walking pace as it wandered through the head. As the solos grew in intensity the speed doubled and just as we were thinking it was cooking, it doubled again then suddenly slipped seamlessly back into the sedate speed of the beginning.

All through the evening there was evidence of tightness and familiarity between the players as they at no time drifted apart. The arrangements were sophisticated and complex slipping in and out of time signatures and differing speeds with ease.

The two sax/trumpet duets of the evening were reminiscent of Bach double sonatas. The two instruments weave effortlessly round the plaintive melody taking us into the Baroque courts with a beautiful little Bachesque double sonatas.

The work that followed was a delight. An arrangement of the hymn Be Thou My Vision, it wasstunning in its subtlety and full of interesting interplay between melody and countermelody across the three tuned instruments. It is possible though, that the minister was perhaps a little drunk.

Inspired by the Hardanger fiddle music of Norway, the next piece had the most discordant and flamboyant treatment of all. The entry of the trumpet took your breath away as it was on a double forte discord. Through the piece the drums kept the beat steady and solid, almost tribal.  The music was hypnotic and repetitive but quite mesmerising.

The last gem of the night was inspired by fiddler Bruce Molsky. The trumpet played a stunning solo and as the work unfolded they executed some nice style and speed changes. An exciting and vibrant sax solo went places some more mature maestros of the instrument might be afraid to. What an excellent finale!

The audience showed their appreciation to such an extent that the band were persuaded to play one more. They chose for their encore another piece not typical to the genre at all, The Gambler!  It reminds Norman of his roots in Shetland playing with a cover band in the country halls and the audience invariably requesting the song. It is a bit of a tradition in Shetland and this was his homage.

The band has played together now for three years and only with that familiarity can you achieve the connection that was evident on stage.  Although the drums did not solo, Ambach featured as a solid and interesting creative player who complimented what the tuned instruments were doing perfectly and contributed every bit as much as any of the other players with his fluid and seemingly effortless playing. The equally accomplished bass player locked into the drums all night and between them gave the sax and trumpet a concrete base to set their shenanigans on.

What a lovely energy on stage, four young men who know each other very well indeed and are completely comfortable and confident in each other’s abilities. No passengers in this band. Although they took risks and wandered into unusual genres, it was always done with respect and humility. This concert had something for everyone and we all went home feeling we had been thoroughly entertained.

Norman has resisted the temptation to fit into the accepted role and follow the conservative path to jazz mastery. Not afraid to incorporate styles and ideas that are unconventional and a bit risky, he has taken his own path using influences and experiences from his life here in Shetland.

Influenced by Nordic folk and American country as well as our folk tunes, he has made his jazz an extension of himself. He has made it his own.