Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2019 Herald Review
Euan Stevenson & Konrad Wiszniewski
five stars *****
IF it sometimes seems that Edinburgh’s jazz festival struggles to make itself heard above the din of the capital’s hectic summer, its occupation of Fringe and Festival venues devant le deluge, as it were, works well, with this student union debating hall perfectly suiting the New Focus duo of pianist Euan Stevenson and Konrad Wiszniewski on soprano and tenor saxophones.
This programme, exploring The Classical Connection, was not, Stevenson insisted, “a lecture recital”, but actually that pedagogical approach was key to its success. Using a skilful selection of original compositions, introduced with refreshing honesty about the blatant “borrowings” within them, and bespoke arrangements of jazz standards, the pair played a carefully-constructed programme that made clear the debt that jazz owes to classical music, both in the roots of improvisation in the music of Bach and Mozart, and in the thorough classical education of many of the immigrant-family songwriters responsible for the Great American Songbook.
Treats includes Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are in Baroque style, Ellington and Strayhorn’s Take the A Train as a Mozart Sonata, and Wiszniewski’s reading of Chelsea Bridge owing as much to Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy as Ben Webster.
This singular journey through the 20th century ended in the company of Erik Satie and Bill Evans and a set of compositions and arrangements by Stevenson that stole shamelessly from the Gymnopedies and Gnossiennes to convincingly argue that the French composer had been mining the musical material that would later be called “jazz” half a century before the term was coined.
In other hands this could so easily have become a lot of pretentious twaddle, but there was never any danger of that with Stevenson and Wiszniewski, because they are both musicians with an instinctive desire to communicate. Not only was the verbal explanation kept short and pithy, but the musical points were always very succinctly made as well. The audience in the well-filled auditorium went home royally entertained, and probably a little better educated as well.
31st January - New Focus Duo Classical Connection, St Michaels Church, Linlithgow 7:30pm
16th February - New Focus Duo @ Hill Of Tarvit Mansion House near Cupar, 7:30pm
21st March - New Focus Quartet @ Aberdeen Jazz Festival
22nd March - New Focus Workshop @ Aberdeen University
24th May - New Focus Duo @ Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire
13th July - New Focus Classical Connection @ Edinburgh Jazz Festival - Five Star Review!
22nd August - New Focus Duo @ Edinburgh TV Festival for Sky Arts
14th September - New Focus Duo @ North Berwick
20th September- New Focus Duo @ Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire
10th October - New Focus Quartet @ The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
10th November - New Focus Classical Connection @ The Tron, Glasgow
16th November - New Focus Classical Connection @ St James, Leith
28th November - New Focus Duo @ Abode, Bath st, Glasgow
22nd January - New focus Quartet Support for the Afro Cuban Allstars @ Celtic Connections, Glasgow Concert hall
17th February - New Focus Duo @ Craiglockheart Church, Edinburgh - 7:30pm
3rd March - New Focus Nonet @ The Institute, New Lanark Music Society
11th March - New Focus Duo @ Dunfermline Music Guild
14th April - New Focus Quartet @ St James, Leith
13th May - New Focus Quartet @ Merchants House, Glasgow
27th May - New Focus Duo @ Lythe Arts Centre, Caithness
2nd June - New Focus Duo @ Linlithgow Jazz Club
26th October - New Focus Quartet @ West Kilbride Music Society - sold out
22nd November - New Focus Duo @ Perth Jazz Club
13th December- New Focus Duo @ Abode, Glasgow
27th January- Inverurie Jazz Club - SOLD OUT!
18th March - Jazz @ Hospitalfield, Arbroath - SOLD OUT!
31st March - Birnam Arts Centre
8th April - Nairn Arts Centre
May 20: SEALL at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Isle of Skye - SOLD OUT!
26th May - The Tolbooth, Striling
2nd June - Glasgow University Lunchtime recital - SOLD OUT!
14th June - Kew Gardens, London
15th June - Greenock Arts Centre
22nd July - Edinburgh International Jazz Festival, The Rose Theatre
16th August - New Focus Quartet @ Ronnie Scotts, London
17th August - New Focus Quartet @ Ronnie Scotts, London
18th August - New Focus Quartet @ The Crypt, London
29th August - New Focus @ the BBC Quay sessions
20th October - New Focus Quartet @ Wakefield Jazz Club, Yorkshire
22nd October - New Focus Quartet @ Whighams Jazz Club, Edinburgh
23rd October - New Focus Nonet @ Biggar Festival, Biggar
18th November - New Focus Quartet @ Altachorvie, Isle of Arran
19th November - New Focus Quartet @ The Tron Sunday Jazz, Glasgow
30th November - New Focus Duo @ The Catstrand, New Galloway
4th April - Torphican Summer Nights series
8th May- Strathaven Choir Concert
22nd June - Support for Fly Trio @ The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow 7:30pm
9th July - Edinburgh House Concert
11th July - Kelburn, Largs
20th August - Edinburgh Festival Fringe @ The Jazz Bar 8:30pm (Quartet)
28th August - Edinburgh Festival Fringe @ The Jazz Bar 7pm (Quartet)
9th September - The Swallow Theatre, Wigton (Duo)
16th September - Cupar Music Club (Duo)
17th September - Craiglockhart Parish Hall, Edinburgh (Duo)
18th September - Eyemouth Hippodrome (Duo)
1st October - Southbank Centre, London, Live BBC Radio 3 Broadcast (Quartet)
8th October - Gartmore Music Club (Quartet)
15th October - The Old Parish Church, Falkirk (Quartet)
3rd November - The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen (Quartet)
“Another impressive offering from the team of Stevenson & Wiszniewski…lush, rich colours and textures…if anything the synthesis between the three different strands of jazz, classical and folk is even more successful this time round”.
- The Jazz Mann
“Stevenson channels those Satie, Debussy and Ravel influences…his writing is consistently inventive and imaginative but always unfailingly melodic…a highly accomplished piece of work with the potential for considerable cross genre appeal.”
- The Jazz Mann
“Acoustic jazz roots with a rush of strings…tuneful melodies and lyrical improvisation”
- Mike Hobart, Financial Times
“powerfully inventive and melodic music”
- ****The Scotsman
"Here's proof from Scotland that the quest for the thinking person's fusion still offers no end of possibilities...Wiszniewski and Stevenson have sculpted a clutch of concise, hauntingly original pieces"
- The Sunday Times
“Fresh and interesting…sensuous, almost lush, and certainly engaging, well away from the routine…evocative of the best of movie music, varied and resolutely individual, the jazz sensibilities overlaid by a rather pleasing command of art music compositional concepts”
"The inspiration is sax legend Stan Getz's famous 1961 album Focus, and the comparably tender-toned Wiszniewski and gracefully grooving Stevenson have written a set of appropriately lyrical originals, with the band likewise augmented by strings ensemble and harp."
- The Guardian
“Stevenson’s dazzling jazz piano…Wiszniewski’s soprano tirades scales the heights.”
- Be Bop Spoken Here
“There’s something truly special going on in the musical minds of saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and arranger, composer and pianist, Euan Stevenson...Original music that exists virtually in a world of its own...What’s so thrilling about listening to this nonet is the way all the parts move and work together, creating a melodic, harmonic and rhythmical swell that’s aesthetically pleasing and then some but also, in essence, just plain damned heart-lifting."
- ***** The Herald
“Wiszniewski has a ravishingly beautiful tone and Stevenson’s scores for string quartet, harp and rhythm section amount to much more than mere accompaniment. Combining jazz and classical idioms is a tricky business, but this succeeds splendidly.”
- **** The Observer
"An excellent new album"
- The Independent
"Stevenson’s intelligent and skilfully crafted arrangements and orchestrations go beyond a simple amalgam of jazz and classical music, creating instead a genuinely organic blend that is a constant pleasure. Wiszniewski’s sensuous saxophone shines on every tune and the rhythm section of Michael Janisch and Alyn Cosker are alive to each textural and dynamic nuance."
- **** The Scotsman
"Stevenson confirms himself as a composer and arranger of great style, as well as a pianist with an elegant, coolly considered improviser's touch, and while Wiszniewski's saxophone talents have been conspicuous for some time, his playing here, always inventive, always soulfully communicative, puts him firmly in the international class."
- ***** The Herald