Kurt Elling with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh was the first of four venues across Scotland to have their new collaborative work 'Apparition Bridge' performed, and if you could not make it along to this event, try to get to one of the other tour dates as this one is something very special. This show was also my first opportunity (I was unable to review the last show in September) to be able to see and hear the SNJO after an all too long a period away, back on stage where they belong and as always pushing musical boundaries.
The SNJO and renowned Jazz vocalist Kurt Elling probably need few (if any introductions) in this review, but the initial idea of what was to lead to this new collaborative work between everyone involved does. Over the years, Kurt Elling and saxophonist/SNJO director Tommy Smith have worked together on various projects that have been developed for this jazz orchestra and this one perhaps had the most elusive concept of all. This time, the idea from Tommy Smith to Kurt Elling was to select works from mainly living European Jazz composers and give them not only words and lyrics (which they had previously not had), but connect them together as a thematic project.
Anyone who has ever attempted to write words to music that was not designed for them will tell you how difficult a task this can be, and Kurt Elling not only had to do this, but to also listen to many works in order to select those that not only inspired those words but fitted into a larger project, and somehow with a combination of new lyrics and spoken word combined with some of his favourite poetry, the words and music have combined into something new, ‘Apparition Bridge”.
Bridges are special constructs in our landscape, that allow us to connect from one physical space to another over a land feature (often water), but not all bridges are like this, some are ancient lands like the now submerged Doggerland, an ancient and now completely submerged land bridge that one connected Britain to Continental Europe. On this land a once thriving farming community once lived for thousands of years and “lost” bridges like this are part of our theme tonight. Many of the other bridges are, however, intangible to the touch, but nonetheless very real; bridges that connect hearts and souls, bind lovers together, or reach back into our personal and larger cultural past. There is of course that final bridge that we all must cross at some time, that bridge between this life and whatever is beyond it. Our own Celtic mythology of course is full of tales of bridges between this world and the world of the faerie folks and unseen spirits.
All of these “new” works are of course bridges within their own right as previously unconnected words and music are joined together to make something new. It is this something new that allowed the SNJO to not only perform a programme full of variety and musical colours tonight but to also allow space for the performance of some fine solo work from Tommy Smith, Martin Kershaw, Konrad Wiszniewski and others (sorry if I have not mentioned your name here, just limited space in this review). All of this work was made more remarkable by finding out that schedules have only so far allowed for two days rehearsal on this work, and it is a tribute to the skills of everyone involved that such high standards were possible in such a short period of time.
A work like this of course requires many collaborations with people and there is just not space to list everyone in this review, but the information is available on the digital programme for this event, plus dates for other performances at https://s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/snjo.co.uk/programmes/SNJO_ApparitionBridge2111_programme.pdf
There was also an interesting pre-show talk with Kurt Elling and Tommy Smith, and I mention it because it, to me, has a direct link with these works. A question from Tommy to Kurt was about his perceived differences between American and European Jazz and the answer lay in the different cultural routes, one coming from its African origins and the other being grounded in centuries of European classical music traditions. There is an unseen cultural bridge here between the two that, like these works, has allowed both cultural routes to exchange information and ideas and in the process to create something different and new, and that process is still evolving and will probably continue to evolve forever.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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