It's been six long years since the last Colin Steele CD. But it's been well worth the wait, especially as `Stramash' stands head and shoulders above its predecessor. `Stramash' is a Scottish word for a disturbance, racket, or crash. It seems apt for jazz and has just been waiting for the right amalgam to come along.
After three albums in largely the same vein, one senses that Steele faced a tricky decision; whether to abandon a genre he seems to have near invented or whether to extend it. Fortunately he has maintained the glorious mix of Scottish traditional music and jazz, which fit so well together, and has extended his instrumentation and palette to include a four piece string section plus bagpipes and whistle. I suspect his time with the wild Celtic jazz big band `Unusual Suspects' has had a hand in this. But his inclusion of strings and pipes far from apes the larger unit. Steele brings a glowing intimacy to the marriage of tradition and modernity that, in its exuberance, the larger outfit possibly misses. Steele's writing and arranging, once again excel, balancing excitement and lament, swing and sentiment.
There are also some new and refreshing developments. `The Bletherer', recent winner of an international songwriting competition (judged by McCoy Tyner, John Scofield, Youssou N'Dour, Tom Waits, Chaka Khan and Robbie Williams no less), has sailed to the Western Isles straight from Harlem's Cotton Club and is pure jungle Scots. `Simpson's Jig' has Coltrane-ish undertones with a fine tenor sax fine solo from Phil Bancroft. `Steak and Whisky at 5am' is a swinging Scots blues while `The Journey Home' is a wonderful re-working of the title track of Steele's last album but one, with elegiac strings and whistle and a fine lyrical piano solo from Dave Milligan.
Stramash is full of the most beautiful and poignant moments. The mix of pipes, jazzy rhythm and brass reminds me at times of the great Irish group, Moving Hearts. The recording quality is excellent, capturing both the grit and sweetness of the instrumentation. If I have one regret it is that Stramash doesn't feature enough of Steele's distinctive trumpet playing. But this is very much a band album and the arrangements are full of dynamics, gorgeous voicings, and plenty of instrumental variety, allowing all to contribute to maximum effect.
Steele has, without a doubt, one of the freshest musical visions in Britain today. He should come South more.
I saw Colin more than 20 years ago playing in the John Rae Collective with the Bancroft brothers. To be honest, I didn't rate him as a trumpet player then and he went off my radar. How good is this though! Maybe I am biased, being Scottish, but I think this is a wonderful album. What Gil Evans and Miles Davis did with jazz trumpet and Spanish music, Colin does with traditional Scottish music. Like 'Sketches of Spain', I am not sure if this qualifies as 'jazz';a lot of it is 'written'. However, whatever it is, I love it!