Wednesday 12th August, 2020

The fourth in the series of online concerts, ‘Music at One’ promoted by the Friends of St. Machar’s Cathedral was devoted to jazz featuring two very talented young musicians from Aberdeen and area. Saxophonist Matthew Kilner recently graduated from Aberdeen University. He is studying for a postgraduate degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Jazz pianist Neil Birse, a member of one of the North East’s most musically gifted families, is a recent graduate of the Guildhall School of Music in London. I remember Matthew from his first class performances with Aberdeen University Jazz in the Blue Lamp and with Hamlet Jazz Band in Aberdeen. Neil gave a fine performance for the SOUND Festival last year. The two young jazzmen have performed regularly together. Today, their performance in St. Machar’s Cathedral, was introduced by Dr Roger Williams, organist and director of music at the Cathedral.

It was fitting that most of their pieces today were linked with the Duke Ellington band since Ellington did compose music for church in America.

The jazz performed today was very much in the advanced modern style, related possibly to what is called ‘free jazz’ especially John Coltrane’s ‘In Sentimental Mood’. The first piece gave equal prominence to both saxophone and piano. It was the well known Duke Ellington standard ‘Take The A Train’ composed by Ellington’s friend, composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn. The music was easy, free-flowing, relaxed and dreamy with the saxophone coming to rest on the melody splendidly near the end.

The second piece, ‘Caravan’, we were told by Neil Birse in his conversation with Roger Williams, was composed by a trombonist in Ellington’s band, Juan Tizol (Martinez) originally from Puerto Rico. There was an extensive solo piano introduction free-flowing and excursive with the saxophone then selling us the familiar tune.

Matthew introduced the next piece, ‘In Sentimental Mood’ by American saxophonist John Coltrane. He mentioned being inspired by a performance from Tommy Smith. The solo saxophone explored the whole range of the instrument. Matthew’s playing was sensual, sultry and seductive with restrained backing later on from Neil Birse. One line from the song reads ‘Like a flame that lights the gloom’. Yes indeed. That was Matthew’s music flaming forth brightly in front of the dark pillar in St. Machar’s Cathedral.

I could hardly believe that we had already come to the duo’s final piece. This was another Duke Ellington favourite, ‘In a Mellow Tone’, based I discover on one of the most famous of all jazz pieces, ‘The Rose Room’. Both performers were on their finest form in this piece. There is a fine recording of the song version featuring the amazing Ella Fitzgerald. The words of the song go:

In a mellow tone

Feeling fancy free

And I’m not alone

I’ve got company.

Yes, that was Matthew and Neil in musical company together! And listening to Matthew’s sax, it sang and it swung, so I could almost sense Ella’s voice joining in with them in the background!

Another great St. Machar’s concert! Don’t forget to tune in next week for a concert of classical music for voice and piano featuring soprano Iona Rae with pianist Tim Tricker. Mozart and Herbert Howells will feature in their programme.