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Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project

Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project
Recital Room, City Halls, Glasgow

[Stu Brown (drums), Roy Percy (bass), Tom Gibbs (piano), Tom MacNiven (trumpet), Martin Kershaw (clarinet) and Brian Molley (tenor sax).]

Another fantastic concert, following the Allen Toussaint gig a few weeks ago! But a very different style of music...

This was local drummer Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project, dedicated to expanding awareness of this now-little known composer, pianist and bandleader. He wrote a frantic style of jazz starting in the 1930s onward that was like nothing else at the time, and was also an inventor and pioneer in early electronic music. Indeed, some of his stuff sounds more like Aphex Twin than anything you would expect to hear from such an early period! He was a bandleader for The Hit Parade on American TV, and later was also in charge of electronic music at Motown for a period in the 1970s. Much of his jazz style music was adapted for use in early Warner Brother cartoons and is still is use today in shows like Ren & Stimpy, and The Simpsons.

The gig last night started with a short film about the composer, a preview of a documentary of his life which is being made by his son, a film editor. At the end of the film, it fades out with one of his tracks - I was hoping that as the film faded out, the band would fade in over it, making it perfectly seamless, but unfortunately they didn't. They did play the same piece though, with a brief gap.

The music was some of the most technically difficult stuff I've heard, and we were blown away by the playing, in particular the clarinet and tenor sax. Brian Molley's sax playing was out of this world - what he was playing was so difficult on the tenor, and it was flawless. I think this was the most technically accomplished playing I've heard, to match the difficulty of the music. Tom MacNiven's tone on trumpet was beautiful as always. There was a lot of muted trumpet, as is the style from that era (often playing in harmony or octaves with the clarinet) and occasionally the muted trumpet didn't project quite enough through the band, but it was generally fine. The clarinet playing was very impressive - it takes a lot to make a clarinet sound that good! What's more, most of the arrangements had been transcribed - given the complexity of the music, especially the speed and unconventional note patterns, I can't even imagine how hard that must have been to do.

The music as a whole reminded me of a cross between 1930s jazz, Danny Elfman and Aphex Twin style electronic experimentation!

The tracks are very listenable, and the names are fantastic - Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals, or Reckless Night On Board An Ocean Liner, or Square Dance for Eight Egyptian Mummies for example!

Some of it had very Ellingtonian echoes, in particular Suicide Cliff, which reminded me very strongly of Ellington's Half The Fun (aka Lately) from his Such Sweet Thunder Shakespearean-inspired suite.

One of the most fun tracks was New Year's Eve in a Haunted House - you haven't laughed until you've seen Tom MacNiven and Martin Kershaw (with completely straight faces) trying to make as much noise as possible with squishy toys, squeaky hammers and toy hooters!

One of my favourite ones was an adaptation of one of Scott's electronic pieces called The Bass-line Generator. The parts built up from tenor, adding the instruments one by one. With all three horn parts playing, they merged together to create one steady "melodic" line of staccato notes - the guys had it spot-on, matching in tone and intonation perfectly.

Another unusual one was based on another electronic composition called The Toy Typewriter from the album Soothing Sounds for Baby Volume 2 (6 to 12 Months) - I can only imagine the things these tracks do to the poor developing mind of the baby! This one involved Stu Brown hooking up a toy typewriter to a guitar effects pedal for various percussive effects. In fact, I'm going to show you the album cover for this one, since it's one of the most ridiculous album covers I've seen in a long time:



Yes, it does appear that a drill has just passed through the baby's head.

Anyway! All in all, one of the best concerts I've seen in ages. If you get a chance to go and see this live, do so. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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