New Focus Quartet, The Tolbooth, 26 May 2017

After playing in a barn on the Isle of Skye New Focus came to Stirling’s historic Tolbooth to play tunes from their latest CD New Focus On Song. Billed as “one of the most appealing, most beautifully realised projects to emerge on the UK jazz scene in recent years”, the Tolbooth’s main auditorium was set up cabaret style and we were treated to an intimate, acoustic set by the band.

The band opened with three melodic tracks from On Song;  Air in D Minor, Green Park and Sophia’s Song.  Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson then introduced the theme of family inspiration into the evening.  Next we heard Leonard’s Lament (a tribute to Leonard Cohen) and Dziadzio (Grandfather) which was inspired by Konrad’s Polish family heritage.  During this tune we heard a skillful solo from Andrew Robb on double bass. Both of these tracks are from their first CD the self-titled New Focus. The final tune of the first half was Corea Change. We heard and saw some amazing brushwork by Alyn Cosker in a short drum solo.

The second half opened with Flora followed by Fourths Ostinato, a jazzier number which is great to hear performed live.  Then to mark the occasion of the hottest day of the year we enjoyed a sweet, laid back, quiet version of Lovely Day by Bill Withers. The filmic sounding tune Braeside also from New Focus On Song lead onto the joyful, upbeat tune Parson’s Green. During Parson’s Green Alyn Cosker played one of his tremendous solos where he combines precise, engaged and defined playing with a huge amount of energy that never fails to astound the audience. (Yes, there was wooping and whistling!)  It is always a treat to see Cosker play up close and personal, you can actually see all the stick changing and the tiny nuances he fits in between larger beats.

New Focus should be seen live. Much of the work on their CDs is recorded with strings for a bigger more complex sound but seeing the musicians play live really lets you understand the essence of their music, enjoy its well-tuned richness and appreciate the skillful playing of the musicians.  The musicians work well together and have cultivated their own sound, they speak to the audience and each other which is something that I love. Euan explained during the gig that their second CD was titled New Focus: On Song because they were exploring the type of songwriting that makes people happy. Judging by the round of applause and the smiles on faces at the end of this gig that idea was definitely well translated into the music we heard.

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New Focus (Duo) are playing a free lunchtime concert this Friday, June 2nd, from 13:00-14:00 at Glasgow University.

The New Focus Quartet:  Konrad Wiszniewski – Tenor and Soprano Saxophones, Euan Stevenson – Piano,  Andrew Robb – Double Bass,  Alyn Cosker  – Drums and Percussion

 

 

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New Focus

Here is another review of this great album…

The Rest is Jazz

On Song

There is on Corea Change a glorious double bass run by Andrew Robb intertwined by the machinations of Konrad Wiszniewski’s sax, brought to an abrupt conclusion by Euan Stevenson’s piano, which in fact bookends the number, encapsulating all that is magnificent about this second release from New Focus.

Throughout there is pure jazz, both sax and piano trading blows while knitted by a phenomenally paced bass, with Wiszniewski playing out of his skin. Now listen to the tracks on either side of Corea Change, Ascension and Braeside.

Ascension opens with a funereal violin before it is elevated by The Glasgow String Quartet, a tune that wouldn’t be out of place on an Ealing Studio soundtrack of the 1940’s, plaintively atmospheric and distinct from Corea Change.

Braeside is quintessentially chamber music, not dissimilar in tone or pace to Ascension, but the hallmark of On Song, with 13 original compositions…

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Dave Milligan at the City Arts Centre, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, 23 July 2016

This afternoon’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival pick was an adventure into the work of a musician I knew nothing about. I was encouraged when I mentioned on Twitter to a jazz musician that I was going and they replied that Dave Milligan is amazing. The crowd was large as we ascended to the City Arts Centre fifth floor by lift and stairs to hear some music.  Dave Milligan played piano for approximately an hour.  He started off with a very quiet, emotional tune Going Nowhere (Parts One and Two).  It was well received by the audience and drew us into the space and Milligan’s music. The second number Did It opened with Pink Pantheresque type chords and took us on a dark and heavy journey as it progressed (nicely complemented by wailing emergency vehicle sirens from outside). Milligan travelled up and down the keyboard on this track before moving onto an improvised piece.  This unnamed number had space and peace, it was hymnic with classical overtones. Dave then said hello and told us he had planned not to speak but changed his mind as it seemed rude not to. Next we heard The Wanderer.  It was lively and reminded me of a toddler finding their feet, sometimes sure and solid, other times light and delicate. There was a playful motif that recurred through the tune as it gathered confidence.

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The fifth tune had hints of pibroch and bagpipes to it and blossomed slowly as a sunrise does on a misty morning. Dave had his back to the audience on the diagonal so I couldn’t see his face while he was playing but this certainly was an emotional tune for me to listen to and I saw a couple of others in the audience rub imaginary specks of dust out of their eyes. Another improvised piece followed where Milligan showed us the lightest of touches on the keyboard contrasted with some heavier ones and he ended with his hands in the piano playing the strings which sounded amazing. He had already succeeded in convincing me the piano could sound like bagpipes and now it sounded  like a string quartet.  The humorously titled If You Need a Paining in an Emergency was next. Milligan recorded this with his trio at An Tobar on Mull and it was released on CD in 2009.  This was a sweeping tune which showcased many influences and at certain moments put me in mind of a breeze coming in through an open window and catching on a curtain. It floated. Tune number eight was There is Always Tomorrow and the concert finished with his version of Hamish Henderson’s Freedom come All Ye which was met with joy and a few whoops by the audience. Played along with a tune he wrote for his father Happy Dapper Day it was a truly hopeful and positive ending to this concert.

You can learn more about Dave here

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