Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – “Jazz Re-Imagined” with Florian Ross brought to The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh a selection of music from the songbooks of Jazz masters. With music arranged and conducted by Florian Ross we explored the re-imagined musical worlds of John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Charlie Parker, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Bobby Wellins, Kenny Wheeler, and Leonard Bernstein. Of course, the music of Florian Ross also featured with two movements from his “A day In the life of…” five part suite suite – “Ramblin” and “Rising”. This music was commissioned for the SNJO in 2002.
To some people, Florian Ross may not be an immediately recognisable musical name, but to anyone who has attended even a few SNJO concerts, his name will be familiar in many programmes as a musical arranger. Who then, is Florian Ross? The answer to that is simply someone who is not only a hugely gifted musician in his own right, but also one of the great musical arrangers of his generation with an ability to take his interest and knowledge of many different musical genres and seamlessly combine and re-imagine them into music that is always fresh and new. Florian Ross has travelled the world in his career both as a musician and a musical educator, and as well as holding many prestigious academic posts, is also the recipient of many major musical awards. Tonight was a rare chance to see one of the too often unseen faces behind the SNJO stepping out into the spotlight and on to stage with the orchestra that he has done so much to help develop musically over the years.
One of the greatest difficulties in putting a programme like this one together always has to be the most basic one –“Where do you even start?” There is no answer to that question as the possible choices are so vast, but with “Both Sides of the Coin” (Brecker), “Epilogue from Culloden Moor” (Wellins), “Yardbird Suite” (Parker) and “Giant Steps” (Coltrane) included in this programme, an interesting programme of music that could appeal to both classic Jazz fans and those liking re-imaginations of classics. This careful selection of music, and the very special arrangements that went with it, allowed for some wonderful music not only by the SNJO orchestra , but also fine solo performances from Tommy Smith (Sax), Martin Kershaw (Sax), Sean Gibbs (Trumpet), Alyn Cosker (Drums), and others members of the SNJO. Nice here to see and hear more of Tommy Smith’s playing on stage than is often the case with SNJO concerts. Not forgetting of course Pete Johnstone on piano who added so much to this evening’s overall sound.
One of the more interesting “re-imagined” works in this programme was Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, and the ability of Florian Ross to condense the selected elements of this musical score but still somehow retain the original flavour of the work is itself a tribute to his enormous skills as an arranger. This year marks the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein (b. 25 August 1918 – d. 14 October 1990), so a more than apt inclusion of work from him here.
Closing our evening was another great arrangement of a classic –“My Foolish Heart” by Victor Young. This time though featuring Florian Ross on piano with the SNJO.
Review by Tom King