Tonight at The Queen’s Hall with guitarist Mike Stern as special guest saw The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in a far funkier mood than I have seen them play before and it was great getting to see them let their hair down a bit more than usual to the often free flowing  jazz-funk sound that Mike Stern brought with him tonight.

Mike will need little introduction to most jazz and guitar music fans, having played with so many musicians over his long career – including two runs with the legendary Miles Davis.

Although carefully rehearsed in the past few days, this is as close as I have seen the SNJO to everything looking just free-flowing and at times improvised on stage as Mike was having a great time playing not only to the audience, but with fellow musicians of the SNJO.  It always amazes me how when you have musicians at this level that they can make the so carefully arranged look so spontaneous (although there were some on the spot improvisations here too).

Much as I love soul and funk music, I have to admit some of my personal favourites from this show was some of the  music from Mike Stern’s “Voices” album including the almost haunting music of “Wishing Well”.

Mike Stern may have been the star name on the show tonight, but there was also some star playing from the SNJO itself and just such a change to see them playing with their “soul/funk” hats on for a change and also to get to hear Tommy Smith let loose on saxophone in this style for a night.  Also great sounds on sax from the band including Konrad Wiszniewski. Martin Kershaw and Paul Towndrow.

Alyn Cosker on drums kept that great beat running all night with some fine soul/funk keyboards from Steve Hamilton.

Mike Stern of course was just a display of technical brilliance on guitar across a range of styles and, although I can appreciate the music, I certainly do not have the technical ability to start to comment on the more specialist aspects of the show, so I will not.  This was simply Mike having a great time doing what he obviously likes best, and that is playing music live with other musicians and so obviously finding great joy in working with Tommy Smith (whom he so obviously respects as a musician) and the SNJO.

If anything at all was missing from the show, it was a huge dance-floor to those great soul/funk jazz sounds.  I’m seeing the SNJO in a slightly different light now and like this new sound (well new to me) a lot.

I was at the short pre-talk before this show, and although not mentioned at the event, one thing does need a mention here, and that is how generous Mike has been with his time in workshop classes to young musicians during his time since he arrived here a few days ago.  Mike not only loves playing, but also passing his knowledge and experiences onto the next generation of musicians.

It sometimes also I think gets missed in reviews just how highly Tommy Smith himself is regarded by other musicians and what a huge musical statement he has made to everyone with the SNJO, and a tribute to the success of the SNJO is its ability to get world class musicians like Mike Stern to not only play with them, but to look forward to it and enjoy the experience.

Remaining dates ofr this show are

Saturday 27th February 2016  7.30 p.m.Gardyne Theatre Dundee 01382 434 940 (pre-concert talk at 6.45 pm)

Sunday 28th January 2016 7.30 p.m. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland 0141 332 5057 (pre-concert talk at 6.45 pm)


Revieew by Tom King