Performance Reviews for
Colin Steele

Colin Steele Quintet, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Jazz breaks through the border
By Sholto Byrnes
10 April 2003

"A year on from when I caught him at the Vortex promoting his first album, Twilight Dreams, Colin Steele was back in London last week as part of a mini-festival for Caber records, Scotland's leading jazz label. Scotland's leading jazz label? It would be easy to mock, but it would be a mistake to assume that because the pond is small, there are no big fish in it. It is on the independents that much of the most interesting British jazz (not just English jazz) is to be heard, and Tom Bancroft's Edinburgh-based Caber holds its own with any of them.

Steele is certainly a delightful trumpeter, with a modest dose of showmanship about his delivery. He's not afraid to sway and lean back as he coaxes a mellow middle register line from his horn. He has quite simple things to say, but he says them with eloquence and expression.
His greater claim to the bandleader's chair, however, lies in his compositions, which interweave echoes of traditional Scottish music with mostly major-key structures. The bolder, more open, whole-tone key shift is used instead of the semitone slides more common in jazz, and these lend his tunes a buoyancy and optimism unlike that produced by younger English players, many of whom seem to have had any such attributes they once possessed wrung out of them by the college courses' endless pursuit of substitution, and the consequent burying of melody. This is what a Steele composition has that makes it so unusual: it is the sound of hope.

His band, with the excellent Dave Milligan on piano and John Rae on drums, was joined by a gifted young double-bassist, Aidan O'Donnell, and Tom Bancroft's twin Phil on sax (the regular saxophonist, Julian Arguelles, was away). It may have been one night only, but Phil Bancroft was the complete master of Steele's material, which contains some tricky conversational lines. I thought that his more full-bodied tenor and soprano actually improved the balance; perhaps it was the adrenalin of the night. He is certainly a very assured player.

The same applies to Milligan, a pianist of quite astonishing verve and subtlety. On one number, he employed Les McCann-type repeated notes and surrounded them with chords as though a forest was springing up in slow motion. He can turn his hand to the thoughtful as much as to the raucously gospel, and he was rightly accorded several open-ended breaks that became whirlwind tours de force."

LIVE REVIEW: Colin Steele Quintet
Kenny Mathieson in The Scotsman
Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

COLIN Steele was on the road with his quintet last week in what he billed as his Scottish Tour, Part 1. The band were developing the new material for his next recording, with the second part of the tour to follow its release in the spring.

Several of the new compositions had a distinctly Scottish feel to their melodies or rhythms, including The Reel Deal, played in an imaginative alternation between Steele’s trumpet and Julian Arguelles’s soprano saxophone, eventually ending with the horns in counterpoint.
Mr Davis’s Lament (a nod to Miles of that ilk), The Journey Home and Fishing for Pearls all revealed that Scottish influence in more plangent form.

His pretty, slightly bittersweet melodies are both catchy and satisfyingly complex, and provide excellent material for thematic improvisation over his spare harmonies. Even on first exposure the new material stood up well against the three tunes they played from Twilight Dreams, his very successful debut album.

The horn players were supported by pianist David Milligan, new recruit Aiden O’Donnell on bass, and drummer John Rae in this excellent, highly compatible unit. The time has surely arrived for Milligan to follow Steele and Brian Kellock to wider recognition beyond Scotland.'

Colin Steele Live Review The Guardian
4 stars Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
John Fordham
Tuesday August 27 2002

"Colin Steele, the Scottish trumpeter who dedicated his debut album to the late Chet Baker, came south this week. His disc had already provided a startling foretaste of his skills. On a casual listening Twilight Dreams may have sounded like a conventional jazz set (give or take the odd Scottish reel and pipe-like lament). But the understated eloquence of its tone poems made it leap out of the crowd.

Steele's simple strengths are a beautiful trumpet tone on reflective pieces, a gift for evocative composition and an ear for group dynamics. The trumpeter's dialogues with saxophonist Julian Arguelles are the compelling centrepiece, with Steele's feathery phrasing gliding around Arguelles's more intense, intricate lines. But just as significant is the presence of drummer John Rae, who balances unobtrusive swing with a quiet mischievousness that sometimes pulls an essentially elegant music engagingly out of shape before letting it snap back.

Steele isn't mellow all the time, and he delivers plenty of jaunty hard bop-derived music with an enthusiasm that has him weaving around onstage and pointing the trumpet skywards in a way that Baker wouldn't have contemplated. Cheeky Wee Monkey, a dissonant Thelonious Monk tribute, highlighted Steele's compositional creativity with familiar materials, Rae's idiosyncratic accents and Arguelles's attractive tendency to play the tenor sax with the fragility of an alto.

With the band at its straight-jazziest, sections of the crowd sometimes carried on as if they were so sure of what was coming next it was too obvious to attend to (it wasn't). But when Steele dropped the volume for an untitled trumpet lament there wasn't a sound in the room but his muted whisper. Arguelles gradually entered, a bagpipe-like whoop in his soprano saxophone sound, and the piece slowly accelerated into a prancing dance (Steele's The Reel Deal), with all the members, including pianist Dave Milligan and bassist Brian Shiels, joined in the flow."

Colin Steele Quintet Live Review , The Vortex, London
Northern soul comes south
By Sholto Byrnes in The Independent
23 March 2002

"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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