Music review: SNJO Pop! Rock! Soul!, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Under director Tommy Smith, the SNJO and guests reinvented a host of old favourites with great panache, writes Jim Gilchrist

By Jim GilchristMonday, 28th February 2022, 1:32 pmUpdated Monday, 28th February 2022, 2:11 pm

SNJO Pop! Rock! Soul!, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

When Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham laid down the extended solo of Moby Dick, back in the day, he could scarcely have imagined that, half a century on, it would be powerfully reprised by a jazz big band, complete with dazzling vibraphone break and triple trombone sparring. In this gleeful makeover, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra drummer Alyn Cosker had already worked up an epic solo before the rest of the band rumbled in over electric bassist Kevin Glasgow’s riff.

Music review: SNJO Pop! Rock! Soul!, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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Those three exclamation marks in the programme title justified themselves as the band ranged through material by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, the Isley Brothers and the Beatles, guest vibraphonist Joe Locke’s arrangements proving magically transformative while preserving the songs’ essence. Soul credentials were flagged up from the start by guest vocalist Kenny Washington – like Locke, an old American friend of the band – in Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, its sentiments still, sadly, unfulfilled but Washington’s mellifluous, gospel-tinged vocals professing hope at a time when such a commodity seems singularly thin on the ground.

Under its director, saxophonist Tommy Smith, the SNJO displayed both muscle and finesse in numbers such as Earth, Wind and Fire’s version of Lennon and McCartney’s Got To Get U Into My Life, with alto saxophonist Helena Kay and trumpeter Jim Davison stepping up to the plate with inventive flair as the band swung zestfully alongside.

There were glittering, near-baroque interludes from Locke, while Washington exercised and acrobatic scatting from Washington amid the crisp funk of Steely Dan’s Josie, which also showcased Martin Kershaw’s soprano sax, while a punchy treatment of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine saw further scatting over Cosker’s drum groove and a clean-toned guitar break from Kevin Mackenzie – old favourites, re-invented with panache.

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