'Sunday Herald' 20/4 02




THE Scottish Arts Council has been accustomed more to obloquy than accolades from musicians and fans out-with the classical sector, but the times they are a-changing. That much is evident from the vigorous applause - including even the odd whoop - prompted by guitarist Kevin MacKenzies' thanks for the SAC's support, following the premiere of his new ensemble composition Harmony: Diversity The piece was paid for by a £25,000 Creative Scotland award Mackenzie won last year, and adds further weight to the council's recent shift in policy towards increased backing of non-classical genres, already evident in new funding.

The breadth of skills at MacKenzies' fingertips, honed by playing everything from traditional folk to leading-edge jazz, translate on this large creative canvas into a highly evolved, sophisticated and entertaining piece of work, played capably by the nine-piece band here.

Divided into 11 short sections, the music transcends any overt exercise in cross-genre fusion; its array of contributory elements are far too well integrated for that. Foreground instead are the boldness, rigour and brio with which MacKenzie handles his cocktail of textures, accents and allusions, from retro funk to drum'n'bass.

The affectionately schmaltzy slow waltz Last Night mingles the last-dance strains of big-band jazz with those of the village hall ceilidh, while the brilliant Lost Again, a wry reflection on MacKenzie's lamentable navigational skills when driving, conjures a hilariously hectic aural picture of mounting tension and frustration, complete with honking horns.






... 1 11 1. ~ 1 .............

WELCOMING Kevin Mackenzie's Vital Signs on to the stage, Assembly Direct's Fiona Alexander mentioned that it was not often emcees got to introduce a world premiere. Soon afterwards she might have added that it's pretty rare for music composed with the help of an arts council grant to be the sort of thing that would sound right at home in a disco.

Not that Mackenzie has spent his Creative Scotland Award fashioning pop music or, indeed, anything frivolous. in fact, in putting together nine musicians from the jazz and traditional spheres he operates m and writing with an open mind and seeing what happens rather than forcing an unnatural fusion, the guitarist has produced music that almost immediately established its own identity. It also grooves like nobody's business -- when appropriate.

The opening Cypriot Skies set the tone, with neat, interlocking phrases for saxophones, fiddles, and accordion over a crisp, nimble rhythm. The fiddles and accordion were rather buried in the mix and it was only really in the second half, with some interval adjustments,that their tone and character could be fully appreciated.

None the less, the tightly-drawn nature of Mackenzie's new pieces, such as the mischievous Miss. Interpretation and the Eastern European-flavoured Lost Again, could still be enjoyed and admired. possibly there'll be one or two minor tweaks and improvements to be made as the band beds down, but this is confident well-crafted, and imaginative writing played by a band that sounds totally involved in the music, with both improvising soloists and ensemble players bringing Mackenzie's ideas off the page with conviction and a collective sense of purpose.

Kevin Mackenzie's Vital Signs

CCA, Glasgow

THE guitarist Kevin MacKenzie was the second jazz musician to receive a Creative Scotland Award from the Scottish Arts Council. This concert was the premier performance of the music he created for that project.

His proposal involved bringing together musicians from the realms of both jazz and folk., areas in which there has been a great deal of productive interaction in Scotland in the last decade. MacKenzie has often been involved in that exchange, and has worked as much in one camp as the other.

That combined experience has left him well-placed to undertake this type of challenge, and the resources provided by the award allowed him to call upon a larger ensemble than he would normally be able to do. The nominal division of the personnel would place accordionist John Somerville and fiddlers Aidan O'Rourke and Chris Stout in the folk camp, with saxophonists Phil Bancroft and Martin Kershaw, pianist Chick Lyall, bass player Tom Lynne and drummer Tom Bancroft representing the jazz side. In practice, though, all of these musicians are flexible enough to cross over any notional divides. Although not strictly a suite, MacKenzie chose the overall title of Harmony: Diversity for the music, reflecting both the coming together and the variety of his sources.

jazz was certainly the primary colour in his musical palette, couched in very contemporary, freely expressive idioms. The guitarist grafted a wide-ranging set of influences and allusions into that framework driven by some notably funky drumming from Bancroft, and decidedly tricky, jagged rhythm patterns.

The fiddles and accordion were used to provide variation of colour, timbre and texture in the ensembles, and proved more affective after the interval when they were more prominent in the sound mix.

The bulk of the soloing was shared between the jazz players, with MacKenzie and tenor saxophonist Phil Bancroft particularly prominent, closely followed by Martin Kershaw on alto saxophone and Chic Lyall.

The music sounded well prepared, and made a striking impression on first hearing.




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