I'm over the moon to announce the release of 'Diving for Pearls'!
It came as an enormous surprise when I was asked by the Marina record label to consider recording an album of jazz versions of the songs of the Pearlfishers. I’d played on many sessions with them before, and share many similar tastes in music with David Scott, with our shared love of Burt Bacharach, Beatles and the Beach Boys, but I still couldn’t comprehend a jazz album of Pearlfishers tunes – to be honest it sounded like a crazy idea!
Marina then sent me the entire catalogue of Pearlfisher recordings, and while on holiday in a cottage in the remote highlands of Scotland, I finally started to listen to them. I was immediately impressed by the depth of beautiful melodies that unravelled before me, and I could also immediately hear my own voice playing these melodies – specifically using the ‘Miles Davis’ sound of the harmon mute. There is so much variety within the melodies, key changes, the focus moving between David’s songs, to instrumental passages, to whistled melodies that the possibilities and potential seemed endless. I particularly heard the double bass playing several of the melodies.
Although the initial brief was to record this album with my quintet, I did not hear the sound of saxophone at all, so a quartet it was, and it was obvious who the musicians needed to be – on piano is my long term musical arranger and collaborator, Dave Milligan, on double bass the London based, deeply warm toned and lyrical Calum Gourlay, and the powerhouse drummer Alyn Cosker, who ended up contributing and pushing us all more than I could ever have imagined.
For my own part, I started off with a shortlist of 20 songs, that was cut down to 14, then fine shaven to 10. I listened to these songs obsessively for several months, assimilating all the melodies, then imagining how I could interpret them on trumpet, nothing was written down or played until 10 days before the recording. I then spent an afternoon with Dave Milligan, talking through arrangements, then another afternoon, playing through the tunes.
All of the guys in the band are extremely busy, so we only found one afternoon to run through these tunes, before going in to record. I think this is one of the reasons the recording sounds so fresh – it was in the recording studio that we were playing all the tunes for the very first time. Because of this, almost every tune on the album was the 2nd take, with the exception of ‘You’ll Never Steal my Spirit’ which came out pretty perfect on the first time of playing. We had no specific endings arranged, so what you hear on the album is completely fresh and improvised – to be honest I think we were all playing at the very top of our games throughout the whole day, I think you can hear the joy and creativity literally pouring out of this recording.
It was skilfully recorded in one day at Castlesound Studios by the great Stuart Hamilton, perhaps the 5th member of the band. Although it might have been nice to have had more time to record, many of the best recordings in the history of jazz were made in a very short period of time, and I like the fact that we have continued this tradition with ‘Diving for Pearls’.
EVEN IN THE DARKEST PLACES
"Even in the Darkest Places" sees Steele attach his folk-song instincts to a cool contemporary Euro-jazz sound. It features some beautiful playing from all concerned including the yearning, melody-driven sax of Michael Buckley and the similarly elegant Dave Milligan on piano, a man entirely on the same wavelength as his band leader. The rebirth of Steele as trumpeter has given him a darker and more reflective tone than before while his airily bright, tuneful compositions are at a high level. It makes for a spirited comeback" Selwyn Harris
THE SCOTSMAN ****
Edinburgh trumpeter Colin Steele’s first quintet recording for more than a decade reunites him with pianist and arranger Dave Milligan, saxophonist Michael Buckley, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Stu Ritchie in a triumphant and very welcome transcendence over the crisis which curtailed his playing for a period. There’s a sense of jubilation, therefore, in ringing piano and unison fanfaring of trumpet and sax in the opening I Will Wait for You, while tracks such as Robin Song further demonstrate Steele’s penchant for an engaging, folksong-like melody and that mellow yet limber dual horn sound. In Looking for Nessie, the monster hunt becomes a swinging safari, while Independence Song is an upbeat waltz. Buckley’s soprano sax sings out in his introduction to the three-part Down to the Wire, which settles into another elegantly Scots-accented sounding theme before the band lets rip with unbound energy.
THE GUARDIAN ****
The Scottish trumpeter and composer Colin Steele has been both an exponent of warmly songlike jazz playing and vivacious jazz-inflected Celtic original themes over the years, but embouchure trouble was about to end his playing career until classical trumpeter Mark O’Keefe’s inspired advice saved it in 2015. Even in the Darkest Places is the result, seven new Steele themes played by a superb quintet including saxophonist Michael Buckley, with the composer’s folk-jazz alter ego Dave Milligan on piano. The three-part Down to the Wire catches Steele’s composing essence in its sequence of plaintive soprano sax entreaties, echoed by Milligan, a warmly jigging horn dance with a soft, enveloping melody, and then a hurtling, bass-walking Scottish bop-blues. The timely Independence Song neatly meshes a Celtic melody and a South African chime to Milligan’s piano sound, and the mellow theme of There Are Angels hauntingly conveys Steele’s thanks to the people who helped him back to the bandstand. It’s an invitingly lyrical jazz set with a very heartening backstory.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
"This new album is worth the wait. The line-up is less overtly celtic than predecessor Stramash — without fiddles and pipes — with a focus now on the core jazz quintet.
That said, the harmonies are still laced with his trademark celtic lilt, fused with his own gentle tone. 'Looking for Nessie' presents a breezy Loch-side jaunt, spurred on by inventive shifts of bass rhythm from quintet newcomer Gourlay, while 'Independence Song' is a swinging highlight, with its catchy, soulful piano introduction fr"l Steele's long-time collaborator Milligan. Elsewhere, saxist Buckley interjects bebop-style solos. Harking back to the small-band formula of
2005's through the Waves, this disc is a welcome return to form."
"Colin Steele is now back with a vengeance as this superb new set ably demonstrates........The resulting music is full of melodies that remain with the listener long after the last notes of the piece fade."