Live Review: Martin Kershaw Octet: Poets. Assembly Roxy, Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh. Wednesday 20 July 2022

Live Review: Martin Kershaw Octet: Poets

Assembly Roxy, Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh

Wednesday 20 July 2022


The Assembly Roxy was filled with beautiful, story-telling music, as last Wednesday saxophonist/ clarinettist Martin Kershaw presented a programme of his own compositions which had all been inspired by his favourite poems. What a delight it was to both hear new music and also be reminded of some of our greatest poets!

The first set consisted of lyrical pieces that were each a composed response to a particular poem. Philip Larkin featured prominently, together with the likes of Sylvia Plath and Hugh MacDiarmid. Kershaw kept the band a quartet, with himself on saxophones and clarinets, Paul Harrison on piano, Calum Gourlay on double bass and Doug Hough on drum kit. The narrative and especially feel of each poem were laid out beautifully, the final Charles Bukowski one ending scorchingly thanks to Harrison and Kershaw in particular.

Kershaw’s latest extended piece ‘Poets,’ which had been commissioned by the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival constituted the second set. For this the band expanded to octet, with the addition of Graeme Stephen on guitar, Sean Gibbs on trumpet, Adam Jackson on alto sax and Liam Shortall on trombone. Kershaw explained before kick-off that he had structured this piece around the various big themes: Love (such as in John Donne), which theme was generally assigned to Stephen’s guitar; Death (Dylan Thomas); Beauty (Keats); War (Virgil’s Aeneid); and so forth. Such was the clarity of the music’s varied emotional palette, one could often tell which theme was being explored at any one moment.

Kershaw led, his instruments covering the spectrum of emotions, his style of playing ideal for this highly lyrical composition – likewise Harrison’s piano. Both however in general contrasted to the often-assertive horn lines, with Jackson on alto sax delivering an awesomely raw solo one third of the way into the second set. Nevertheless, all of the musicians demonstrated an assuredness and technical expertise, each of their solos proving beyond doubt they are amongst the most accomplished musicians in the UK.

Painterly compositions of delicacy and beauty, played superbly by all, meant that the time flew by. It would be a boon to the Scottish people if this programme could tour, as quality music such as this deserves a wide audience.

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