Jazz from Scotland. Colin Steele is one of a new breed of musicians able not only to play music based on his Celtic heritage, but also to base himself in his home country and make a living. This situation itself is recent. Formerly it would have been necessary for a musician wanting to make an international jazz career to move to London (as in the case of the likes of Jim Mullen or Bobby Wellins) or New York (such as Joe Temperley).
Nowadays a scene has built up in Edinburgh with musicians such as Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock. Caber Records has been documenting the scene, and regularly picking up awards for its recordings. Every night of the week you can find exciting gigs at Henry’s Jazz Bar or jazz musicians working happily with folk musicians.
The surprising thing about the evolution of this new generation is that it hasn’t developed sooner. Scotland is a country with a rich heritage, not just musically but also throughout the arts, whether it be literature, art or philosophy. Edinburgh’s nickname, "Athens Of The North", is well deserved. Scotland is not just a small "region" of the United Kingdom. Nor is it just a tourist centre of heather, kilts, whisky, and the Loch Ness monster. Since the 1990s, the country has been able to reassert its identity more strongly with a new independent parliament and more political and economic autonomy.
Colin and his band follow a route that is a mainstay of the U.K. scene. The musicians happily look around them at their Scottish surrounds but also backwards, both through the history of jazz itself and their own cultural history. They are then unafraid to mix these together, creating something new which gives the music a fresh and different perspective. The work of Django Bates and others from Loose Tubes and their successors have shown the fruitfulness of such an approach since the 1980s.Colin Steele and most of the rest of the band, such as his pianist on this album, David Milligan, are able to develop their love of Scottish music organically as they are exposed to it daily. They can reinforce their Scottishness. Colin’s newest album, his first for ACT, shows his understanding of Scottish music but confirms his status as a jazz musician: he shows an assured understanding for the African-American "jazz" idiom. Jigs and reels are deconstructed and then interpreted in a whole new light which makes one re-examine the thinking behind the music. Colin Steele and his band are not just observers picking up melodies from the outside. Their view comes from total immersion. He brings these strands together in a unique and imaginative manner.
Both Colin’s previous albums have been widely acclaimed. His second album, The Journey Home, was selected as Album of the Year both by Jazz Review, and won a coveted BBC Jazz Award 2004.
Among the rest of the band, David Milligan is also a great bandleader, with an excellent debut on Caber Records. He has been especially influenced by the folk-jazz tradition which has grown up in Sweden. He mentions Jan Johansson as well as Esbjorn Svensson among his peers.
The inclusion of Michael Buckley on saxophone confirms that the Celtic region extends further than just Scotland. So again it is easy to understand why Colin’s saxophonist is from Ireland. Michael is enveloped by the music of his homeland, music which ranges from The Chieftains to U2, as well as a number of well-known jazz musicians, such as guitarist Louis Stewart or singer Christine Tobin. But he too is an expert in jazz itself, having worked with Dave Liebman, Sam Rivers, Paul Bley and others.
Jazz musicians thrive on curiosity and a desire to "go for it". This is leading to a further new, and likely fruitful, chapter for Colin Steele in the future. It’s not far to Scandinavia, and Sweden in particular, but the cultural affinity between the musicians and their desire to build on their national musical identities is even closer. Thus Colin has been invited to work with the two musicians of the Norrland project, Jonas Knutsson and Johan Norberg: the meeting of Scottish and Swedish musical traditions will be exciting to experience as already demonstrated by the shape of jazz to come from this CD.