Monday, March 27, 2017

Colin Steele Quintet - Even in the Darkest Places (GADGEMO RECORDS 2017)

Even in the Darkest Places heralds a welcome return for trumpeter Colin Steele, who was once described as the Sibelius of Scotland, and his band - Michael Buckley (saxophone), Dave Milligan (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass) and Stu Ritchie (drums). Since the Quintet's last release, Through the Waves (2005), the trumpeter has been through some turbulent times and the story surrounding Even in the Darkest Places is one of determination on Steele's part and the generosity and kindness of strangers on the other. 

When, in 2011, Colin Steele took the decision to improve his playing technique he could not have foreseen the events to come. Not only did he feel that his range was limited but every time he played, his mouth would get badly cut and was taking longer each time to heal, so he sought the guidance of a highly recommended American trumpeter. The decision proved disastrous as he was persuaded to completely change his trumpet technique and over the following months his muscles became increasingly confused, his throat muscles eventually going into spasm rendering him incapable of playing at all.

With his livelihood in the balance he was eventually introduced to Mark O'Keefe, principal trumpet player with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Not only did O'Keefe offer his services for free, he also saved Steele's career. 

When Steele was able to begin playing again, he found himself with very little work - he'd had to cancel all his gigs, as he was literally unable to play - plus he had also accrued a fair amount of debt. Recording a new album was out of the question and had it not been for a fortuitous gig in a pizza restaurant, Even in the Darkest Places would never have seen the light of day. Steele happened to be playing in the restaurant when a fan came up and asked why he hadn't released an album for a while. They got talking and when Steele told him of his recent troubles he offered to help by financing a new recording. The track Robin's Song is dedicated to this incredible act of generosity and is something that Steele will be forever thankful for. 

Even in the Darkest Places is comprised of 7 original tracks, all composed by Steele, and arranged by Dave Milligan, his long-term collaborator. His ear for melody has always been a key element of his work and is still much in evidence here. I Will Wait for You was a melody he had had in his head for years, the final section of which, he randomly found himself singing one day to the lyric "I will wait for you". Suite for Theo, dedicated to his youngest son, was originally written for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Big Band and although Steele admits to missing some of the dynamics from the big band arrangement, it's a track that sits perfectly with the quintet. Down to the Wire is another track originally written for the Edinburgh Festival Big Band and is in three sections, the first featuring elements of Scottish folk, showcasing Michael Buckley on soprano, the middle section a gentle melody, and the final section, a rip-roaring Scottish blues, played as fast as Steele could manage. Other tracks on the album include Looking for Nessie, which was born out of a trip to Loch Ness, 

There are Angels, dedicated to all those who helped Steele through his darkest hours and finally, Independence Song, which initially began as a mournful ballad but which morphed into something altogether more uplifting, reflecting the joy and optimism that surrounded the Scottish Independence debate.

1 I Will Wait For You 7:02
2 Looking For Nessie 7:34
3 Suite For Theo 12:32
4 Robin Song 6:06
5 Independence Song 5:21
6 There Are Angels 5:51
7 Down To The Wire 15:43

Michael Buckley - saxophone
Dave Milligan - piano
Calum Gourlay - double bass
Stu Ritchie - drums