Pianist Alan Benzie has earned the right to be regarded as one of Scotland’s top jazz musicians – and showed why at this intimate show at the lovely Jazz Bar in Chambers Street.
A winner of the BBC Scotland Young Jazz Musician of the Year award when he was just 17 a little over a decade ago, Benzie went on to study at the world’s foremost jazz course at Berklee college in Boston, following in the footsteps of other Scottish jazz luminaries such as Tommy Smith.
The experience and know-how he’s built up since graduating and returning to Scotland, has made him one of the most sought-after keys men in the country. Indeed, Benzie has no fewer than five projects on the go presently – the trio with which he performed last night, a duo with singer Luca Manning, the afrobeat-infused outfit Mezcla, the prog-meets-jazz quintet of Animal Society, and the fluid, funky Glasgow fusion collective Fat Suit.
That represents a pretty diverse range of musical styles, and while they all feature jazz to some extent, it is the trio that perhaps promotes the genre in its purest form.
This was not an evening of spectacular pyrotechnics; more a showcase of subtlety and restraint that crafted great tenderness and beauty.
With fellow Berklee graduate, Hungarian tenor saxophonist Basco, providing an almost otherworldly quality to the set, Benzie and long-time collaborators Andrew Robb (bass) and Marton Juhasz (drums), summoned a spiritual jazz that proved both uplifting and lulling.
Playing music by Basco and Juhasz, as well as a selection of tracks from the 2018 Scottish jazz album of the year, Little Mysteries, reworked here for the quartet configuration, the band conjured some truly lovely moments while the playing was always of the highest calibre.
Highlights abounded, and it was also noticeable that each of the four provided at least one tune, but the opener, The Warrior Who Became a Tiger, the gorgeous There Will Be Other Sunsets, and Beslan stood out for me, not least for some fine solo work from each musician together with tight ensemble playing.
What was striking was the intimacy of the music, which proved perfect for the relaxed cosiness of the Jazz Bar and an attentive audience.
This was not an evening of spectacular pyrotechnics; more a showcase of subtlety and restraint that crafted great tenderness and beauty. It was also an evening of salient harmony, the clear communion of the musicians reminding us that jazz is such a powerful force in the right hands.
In an era that is fast becoming distinguished for its “end or genre” focus, jazz often providing the launchpad for excursions into every other conceivable form of music (from rock to folk, from classical to a plethora of world sounds), it is comforting that young musicians are still prepared to advocate a more unpolluted style.
Yet, while the essence of this music might be rooted in the 1950s, it is certainly not stagnant or paying lip service to the past; there is a freshness and honesty about Benzie’s approach that affirms the genre is still alive, well, and evolving.
By Allan Boughey