Colin Steele Quintet, The Vortex, London

Northern soul comes south
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The Independent Culture

There is a city, not so far away, where melody is treasured, where music is unashamedly joyous, where the fey meanderings of po-faced introspectives are banished, and where drummers are unafraid to keep time, recognising that if it was good enough for Art Blakey it's good enough for them too. Hush, I hear you say, do not raise the hopes of the children falsely, for no such city exists.

Well, it does, and it's called Edinburgh. With the exception of one southern interloper, saxophonist Julian Arguelles, all in Colin Steele's band hail from north of the border, and what a breath of fresh Edinburgh air they brought with them. This was one of the most upbeat and generous-hearted performances to be heard in the capital's jazz clubs for a long time. This was partly because of the Celtic heartbeat underlying the interpretation of Steele's fine original compositions.

His tunes tipped a pork pie hat to the Fifties, their strong, simple structures on the cusp of bop and hard bop, but it was a hat adorned with a subtle tartan band. In the loping trumpet and sax lines could be heard the echo of a reel, while John Rae on drums imperceptibly conveyed the image of massed highlanders rolling their snares in unison even while he was doing nothing of the sort. This is not to say that there was even the slightest hint of folk-fusion about the music (for which we give thanks), but several of the players also perform in the Scottish folk scene and this infused their jazz sensibility. Like a drop of Tabasco in a bloody mary, it added just the right amount of zing.

Steele's trumpet is a pleasure to hear. The Fifties analogy holds again. At times he reminded the listener of Lee Morgan – the same fist, just fluffy at the edges, and the manly effort of reaching for a high note given its proper due. That was a top C, dammit, and you'd better believe it. He's a relaxed and unaffected performer, his warm tone mirrored in the easy communication he had with the audience.

I hope for Steele's sake that he manages to hold on to his pianist, David Milligan, who deserves cakes and the finest wines known to humanity. Milligan took a long solo break – more a cadenza – in one number that literally transported the Vortex on to another plane. His hands flew around the keyboard, darting from style to style. Rhythms and time signatures piled on top of each other and climbing chords built tension until an unbidden smile possessed the face and the heart thrilled in a moment of almost religious ecstasy. The Reverend Jazz was preaching to his congregation, and it was beauteous to behold.

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