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Reviews / ‘A rising star in the jazz firmament of not just Scotland’

After the low numbers at the last jazz gig at Lerwick Town Hall, I was not expecting the turnout on Saturday night, writes our reviewer Carol Jamieson.

Norman Willmore on saxophone with Norman Goudie on guitar,John Johnson on bass and Renzo Spiteri on drums. Photos: Jonathan Bulter for Shetland News

PEOPLE kept pouring through the door at Islesburgh till eventually there were about 200 people in the room! What a joy to see and what a supportive statement for local musician Norman Willmore.

After delays and difficulties with the new PA system, the evening kicked off in style with a wonderful set of gipsy-inspired jazz from The High Level Hot Club.

The quartet consists of Lulu Johnson, Daisy Anderson, Artur Vavilov and Tabitha Johnson.  Very young, very capable and very entertaining, the audience loved them. They will be going on to headline festivals if they keep this up.

The main act was warmly and enthusiastically introduced by Jazz Club front man Jeff Merrifield.  He recalled fondly how this boy had appeared in the bop shop when things in the club were tailing away and played a huge part in pulling it up from the gutter together with Jeff and Lesley Roberts.

His talent was clearly evident then and he is now this confident and capable young man with a huge and exciting future ahead of him.

Norman Willmore, as a rising star in the jazz firmament of not just Scotland but much further afield, would be a welcome addition to any professional jazz band.  His exploits down the road are bringing him from strength to strength and garnering him much recognition.  He did make a comment to me though that it may be time now to start promoting himself as someone not tagged to someone else.

Saturday night was a scratch band, but I have to say there were moments of sublime beauty and joyous intricacy.  The three men to support Norman did an excellent job.  Norman ‘Girsie’ Goudie (where would the jazz scene in Shetland be without him; an institution and a treasure), John Johnson and Renzo Spiteri.  They had not played together before and did not know many of the tunes, relying on chord charts and their own wits and expertise.

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Apart from a couple of numbers which went slightly pear-shaped, the support was completely onboard, hardly drawing attention to themselves at any point but hanging on the saxophone’s every note as he floated with ease, dexterity and musical expertise through each piece squeezing intricate harmonies and melodic mastery into every number.

Easy Living (a song made famous by Billie Holiday) showcased the beautiful mellow tone he has cultivated in recent years.  This is in contrast to the more piercing and excited tone used for the rhythmic gymnastics and high harmonics which were masterfully controlled and in tune, no mean feat. These changes in colour and texture are what provided the variety in the set as he subtly gave each tune a slightly different treatment.

The straightforwardness of the accompaniment allowed Norman the freedom to unleash all manner of intricate twists and turns to delight the ear and keep us entertained by his sheer virtuosity.

With a skill belieing his years, he can manage more notes in a single bar than most, and every one beautifully placed.

Most of what Norman is playing now is more modern in style.  You can hear many examples online and they are well worth checking out.  He stayed with the standards in this concert as there was not the luxury of rehearsal or of bringing his own band with him.  Of course, no one left disappointed judging by the enthusiastic crowd and the many positive comments afterwards.

The end of the evening saw the band joined on stage by The High Level Hot Club for a jam on Summertime.  Although it lacked some of the subtly of the rest of the evening, it was a fun and energetic way to end a superb night.

Please also read:

‘Astounding and virtuosic’ – a night at the jazz club that is Lerwick Town Hall



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