Latest Reviews

  Review Archive 01

The Guardian, John Fordham
Live Review, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
“Colin Steele, the Scotish trumpeter who dedicated his debute 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 Scotish 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 centerpiece, 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 saxaphone sound, and the piece slowly accelerated into a prancing dance (Steele's The Reel Deel), with all the members, including pianist David Milligan and bassist Aidan O'Donnall, joined in the flow...” (28th August 2002)


CD of the week, The Observer
“A beautifully conceived and executed set by this Scottish trumpeter and composer. Mellow and melodic without being in the least backward- looking, Steele's music has instant appeal. He is a superb instrumentalist, but never succumbs to the temptation to show off his technique. If pushed to find a comparison, I would say that he reminds me slightly of that master of understatement, the late Art Farmer, but Steele is definitely his own man. The band consists of three top Scottish musicians-pianist David Milligan, bassist Brian Shiels and drummer John Rae- plus a southern interloper in the form of saxophonist Julian Arguelles. Together they make a beautifully crisp ensemble sound...” (10th march 2002)


CD of the week, The Guardian
“This is another cracker from Scotland's Caber label, which over the past couple of years has revealed just how hot the country's jazz scene is, with superb records from pianist Brian Kellock, the irrepressibly eclectic Celtic Feet and the Ornette Coleman-hits-Sauchiehall Street band Trio AAB. Colin Steele is a warm-toned, sparingly lyrical trumpeter with a sound rather reminiscent of the young Henry Lowther (Steele cites Chet Baker as his closest model, and has dedicated an album to the late trumpet star), and he's joined on 11 originals here by an excellent local rhythm section including Celtic Feet leader John Rae on drums, and guest saxophonist Julian Arguelles. Arguelles is superb all through, his poignant sound, softly nudging runs and effortlessly graceful double-time figures constantly filling the music with fresh implications, and his understanding of Steele is remarkably sympathetic. The leader's lovely tone and shapely phrasing curl around the wistful Fanfare for Cafe Graffiti (the trumpeter ran a club of that name). Some of the music is like laid-back hard bop (So Far So Good, the Horace Silver-like Slipped Disc and Nicky's Song); there's Scottish folk-dance jazz turning into spinning two-horn improvisation (the wittily sprightly The Sidestep, over Rae's rattling snare), and wacky monkish swing (Cheeky Wee Monkey). This is very much a traditionally lyrical straight-jazz album, but it has memorable tunes enhanced by the beautifully intertwined lines of Steele and Arguelles. One for the end-of-year hitlists...”
(15th march 2002)


Pick of the month, BBC Music Magazine
“In Twilight Dreams,Scottish trumpeter Colin Steele has compiled a superlative disc for a quintet of musicians who are both virtuosi and mature artists. Steele himself is a magnificent player, with a round, crisp sound in the middle register and singing high notes. Like Chet Baker, he plays in the manner of a singer, making every note count. He composed all 11 beautifully crafted pieces, with the arrangements made by pianist Dave Milligan. The works are inspired by events in his own life and the music projects a wide range of intense emotion, an impression enhanced by the sense that all five musicians seem conversant with the blues. The title track is a lyrical piece with a poetic secondary theme, while 'The Sidestep' is a jig-inspired dancing piece with tricky melodies and a brilliant unaccompanied piano solo. The rhythm section functions superbly and Julian Arguelles and Steele solo marvellously...” (August 2002)


Live review- The Vortex, London. The Independent
“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 Scotish 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 belive 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 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...” (23rd march 2002)


Jazzwise
“Trumpeter Colin Steele's long-awaited official debut album as a leader features excellent performances from the quintet he assembled for the date, but is maybe even more notable for the quality of his compositions. The disc is a superb showcase for his writing, and the eleven tunes on it share a pleasing and well-developed sense of melodic grace and structural integrity. They provide a very substantial base for the musicians- saxophonist Julian Arguelles, pianist David Milligan (who was also the arranger for the date), bassist Brian Shiels and drummer John Rae-to work from. They duly oblige in a disc which covers a variety of styles, taking in plangent ballads (including a gentle 'Fanfare for Cafe Graffiti', a now defunct Edinburgh Venue where he led a popular jazz-funk band, Midnight Blue, and the folky, hymn- like 'A Wee Prayer'), fleet bop-infected originals, a slice of grooving soul-jazz on 'Slipped Disc', and even a distinctly classical feel at times, notably in the elegant horn counterpoint on 'Black Domino'. Worth checking out...” (May 2002)


Jazz Review
“The Scottish jazz scene is going through a real purple patch at present, and leading the way is the spirited Caber Music label, an Arts Council funded enterprise run by the effervescent Tom Bancroft. Not content with releasing the mighty Brian Kellock Trio and the sensational Trio AAB- which Bancroft heads- over the last few months, they appear to have triumphed again with the young trumpeter Colin Steele's debut for the label. The eleven tracks here, all Steele originals, offer a variety of settings for the hornman to develope his Baker-esque gestures and fills. As you would expect with such a role model nothing is too heavy-handed, difficult on the ear, or indeed obtusely experimental. Yet it really doesn't need to be, as most of the material welcomes a lighter approach. Even the notoriously playful and antagonistic Arguelles is on his best behaviour throughout and seemingly enjoys his foray into the mainstream. At the keys, Milligan appears to be the calming influence, his deft, rolling interludes providing the session with a blueprint on which the hornmen construct their individual statements. There is much to like in Steele's approach; a warm, lyrical performer whose sense of melody and tune-building really is of the highest order. Play this record a couple of times and you too will be humming the likes of 'Twilight Dreams' and 'Cheeky Wee Monkey' on the way to work, such is the accessibility and (dare I say it) the commercial appeal of these compositions. What it may lack in improvisational adventurism Twilight Dreams more than compensates with some fine highly-crafted playing and rock solid compositional awareness. Straight-ahead, wholesome jazz that refreshes in an era when most 'young lions'seem hell-bent on pushing the envelope forever forward in the search of new expressive plateaus. Steele seemes more than content on leaving such musical expeditions to others while he, for now, enjoys relaxing in the warm bosom of today's mainstream-a comforting experience at the best of times...” (February 2002)


The Herald
“Caber's latest release has already followed predecessors by Brian Kellock and John Rae in gaining album-of-the-week status for Scottish jazz in the London-based press, and you'll hear no dissent from this quarter. Steele has been working for many years, honing his trumpet craft with the S.N.J.O and on the Chet Baker tribute with Cathie Rae, among other projects, and this first solo outing shows great maturity both in playing and composition. The material, judiciously arranged by pianist David Milligan, is clear, bright, fresh, cultured, and varied and Steele's quintet play it all with thoughtful assurance, making it at once easily accessible to general listeners and satisfying for hardened jazzers...” (March 16th 2002)


The Scotsman
“Colin Steele shared an earlier Chet Baker tribute disc with singer Cathie Rae, but this is his first official release as a leader, and is well worth the decade-long wait it has taken. The trumpeter covers many bases in the course of the 11 tracks, taking in plangent ballards (including a gentle Fanfare for Cafe Graffiti, where he led a popular band, and the hymn-like A Wee prayer), fleet bop-infected originals, a slice of grooving soul-jazz on Slipped Disc, and even a distinctly classical feel at times, notibly in the horn counterpoint on Black Domino. His compositions are strong and melodic, and the quintet plays them beautifully...” (March 11th 2002)


The Mail on Sunday
“Another outstanding album from the prolific scene north of the border. Steele's light and melodic trumpet playing receives excellent support from Julian Arguelles and a solid rhythm section. A fine illustration of the current mainstream trends...” (June 30th 2002)


HMV Choice
“The jazz scene in Scotland is positively humming these days. Perhaps it's the country's strong historical links to Europe that has promoted such a healthy situation. In jazz, at least, there appears to be a progressive movement afoot that embraces the best the continent has to offer while remaining utterly true to local character. And so it is with this delightful new release by trumpeter Colin Steele (who had done the rounds of pop, session work and music school before commiting to jazz). Twilight Dreams features excellent, varied compositions with measured yet emotive playing by all of the top-notch acoustic quintet involved. And a superb recording quality- a kind of ECM record with added sentimentality. Steele is somewhat reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler, with a similiar burnished tone and willingness to approach the music from unusual angles and there's an honesry and intensity to his work throughout, perhaps because the record is dedicated to the late mother of his daughter. But this is no maudlin tribute- it's beautiful life-affirming music that goes nicely with the Sunday morning porridge-and-papers...” (May/June 2002)


MOJO
“Trumpeter Colin Steele, in giving his generic cool bop approach a faint but dissernable Celtic twist, has fashioned an efortlessly attractive album in Twilight Dreams...” (May 2002)


Scotland on Sunday
“Rising Scottish trumpet star Steele shakes off Chet Baker similarities (his last CD was a Baker tribute) to give listeners a taste of his own, distinctive sound, with 11 of his own compositions. Steele clearly has a flair for catchy melodies- listen no further than 'Slipped Disc'-and some of the tracks, notibly 'Twilight Dreams' and 'The Sidestep' point to the influence of Dave Grusin. Steele is accompanied by a classy line-up including Julian Arguelles and Dave Milligan...” (March 24th 2002)


The Sunday Herald
“Trumpeter Colin Steele's been a fringe player in the mainstream of Scottish jazz since the 1980s. He's best known- if at all- as a member of the John Rae Collective who butted heads with the saxophonist Tommy Smith's various groupings throughout the 1980s in one of the less bloody jostling matches of late memory. Smith won, crowned the baby-faced wonder boy of jazz-lite, while the rest of the Collective, including players like saxophonist Phil Bancroft and pianist Brian Kellock, splintered into various, more interesting groupings. Steele's Twilight Dreams is the most intriguing recording to come out of that whole milieu in quite a while, not in terms of musical import, but simply in the way in which it comunicates: precisely, delicately and honestly. Steele's debut as a leader was titled Tribute to Chet Baker- and while it's tempting to make comparisons between the two trumpets, they simply don't stand up. Steele has none of Baker's hazily narcotic tone; his phrasing is crisper and, if anything, more closely resembles contemporary NY trumpeter Dave Douglas. He has a similar way of top-spinning that can leave you a little melancolic. Though Steele's trumpet dominates, the band are fairly sympathetic, especially pianist Dave Milligan who, although a bit muddy as an accompanist, adds some earthy sparkle when he steps out on his own...” (January 27th 2002)

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