Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Where Rivers Meet

Tommy Smith's ensemble takes Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Dewey Redman and Anthony Braxton into the big band realm


Where Rivers Meet is the boldest of concepts from the SNJO, taking the music of Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Dewey Redman and Anthony Braxton, basically written for small groups, and giving it the big band treatment (albeit with a high reliance on the ensemble’s saxophonists for its ultimate impact).

Given the structure of the originals, the arrangers, including Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, have carried out an excellent job in fleshing out the bare bones of what were once regarded as outrageous compositions.

From the opening three Coleman compositions we are in the land of the bold, both in terms of ensemble playing and extensive solos from the reed players across the board. Alto saxophonist Towndrow evokes the spirit of Ornette but his work is very much his own, taking some interesting twists and turns his forerunner would have been proud of.

There is only the one Ayler piece on offer in the shape of Ghosts. Smith builds on that quirky theme in aggressive fashion, including some high-register forays. We are also treated to the unusual experience of the short melody embraced by all and sundry. Thereafter, the tenor saxophonist finds himself in Dvorak territory, followed by a very original take on When The Saints Go Marching In, a strange but enjoyable diversion from the surrounding material.

Konrad Wisniewski takes the expansive tenor route on the two Dewey Redman tunes Joie De Vivre and Dewey’s Tune. The ensemble constantly nudge away at the front man, who goes marginally off piste during The Very Thought Of You, venturing into “tough tenor” mode for part of the song.

Then we consider the three Braxton “numbers” (excuse the awful pun). These are negotiated by Martin Kershaw, buoyed up by Paul Harrison orchestrations honed imaginatively from very difficult sources. Anybody at home with the originals will be impressed or repelled by these updated options.

At first only available as a download, this music should be released on CD in February 2022 and at the very least should be checked out by all contemporary big band enthusiasts. 

Lonely Woman; Peace; Broadway Blues; Dewey’s Tune; Joie De Vivre; The Very Thought Of You; Composition 40M; Composition No. 161; Composition No. 245; Ghosts; Goin’ Home; When The Saints Go Marching In (115.03)
Martin Kershaw (cl, as); Paul Towndrow (as); Tommy Smith, Konrad Wiszniewski (ts); Bill Fleming (bcl, bar); Jim Davison (t); James Copus, Christos Stylinades (t, flh); Kieran McLeod, Liam Shortall (tb); Michael Owers (btb); Pete Johnstone (p); Calum Gourlay (b); Alyn Cosker (d). Edinburgh, 30 April 2021.
Download only via Bandcamp