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Love And Stillness In Scotland

Tom Bancroft In Common

by Howard Lawes




Tom bancroft In Common band


Last April the Observer ran a story called "The British Jazz Explosion" which heaped praise on several young musicians making waves in the jazz world and signalling that "in the UK, a new and thrilling jazz movement has evolved". The piece went on to describe the influence of other genres such as "hip-hop, neo-soul, UK club sounds such as broken beat, or from the African and Caribbean diaspora".  Despite the mention of the UK all the highlighted musicians are based in England and the majority of those in London, and while all the musicians featured thoroughly deserve their acclaim, it is easy to forget that great jazz is being created all over the UK. This is certainly the case in Scotland.  Furthermore Scottish jazz has been influenced by the traditional music of Scotland to a greater extent, and for a longer period, than new British jazz has been influenced by the cultural heritage of the diverse communities that make up cosmopolitan London.

There are many Scottish music festivals presenting great music of all types but two worthy of special mention are the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, now in its 41st year, and Glasgow's Celtic Connections.  Mike Hart, the founder of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival played with Sandy Brown and said of him "One man was responsible for world class Edinburgh Jazz: Sandy Brown". Celtic Connections began in 1994 attracting 35,000 people, in 2018 the audience exceeded 130,000 and featured an eclectic programme of music, including jazz, and other events.  In 2018 Creative Scotland Music Officer Clare Hewitt said "Creative Scotland sees jazz as a vital and vibrant part of the overall music landscape in Scotland and how Scotland’s music is presented to the world. Our priorities include supporting talent, raising the profile of the scene and its musicians, developing international connections, and supporting opportunities to develop sustainable careers in an increasingly digital world".   Kim Macari, Chair of Jazz From Scotland said: "I am so excited at what lies ahead for Jazz From Scotland this year. We've worked In Common bandhard to provide opportunities for people at all levels within the jazz community - young musicians, established professionals, those keen to develop their international profile. We have a strong programme of work, a dedicated and passionate board and I am privileged to be a part of that."  

Epitomising progressive jazz in Scotland and opening Celtic Connections 2019, Tom Bancroft's band 'In Common' performed material from their new album Love and Stillness that focuses on the common ground between Scottish music, jazz, Indian music and electronica - which pretty much meets all of Creative Scotland's priorities in one package.  Tom, with brother Phil and sister Sophie, grew up in a musical family and have all gone on to be successful jazz musicians in Scotland.  Both Tom and Sophie live in Pathhead, home of the Pathhead Music Collective, which appears to be a musical Shangri La attracting musicians to live, teach, perform and create music together.  Some years ago Tom Bancroft met Indian violinist Sharat Chandra Srivastava and tabla player Gyan Singh in Pathhead during their visit to Scotland when they discussed a cooperative project. It has taken a while but Love and Stillness is the result of that meeting. While this is not the first collaborative venture between Scottish and Indian musicians a distinctive feature of this album is the beautiful vocals from three singers.

The first track Somehow Something, starts with a drone which is an obvious common feature of both Indian and Scottish music. In India the sound is created on a tanpura while in Scotland it is the bagpipes, neither of which are listed as instruments played on this album but with Tom Bancroft (drums and bodhran), Sharat Chandra Srivastava (violin), Graeme Stephen (guitar), Gyan Singh (tabla), Sophie Bancroft (voice), Gina Rae (voice) and Inge Thompson (voice) there is more than enough instrumental firepower to conjure up a host of sounds that characterise the music of both Scotland and India.



Here is an introductory video.





Track 3 illustrates the point, being a combination of  two compositions, firstly an improvised piece with Srivatava's violin and Stephen's guitar which is gradually replaced by a song called Donald, Willie and His Dog sung by the three vocalists using word music, not exactly jazz scat singing nor traditional Gaelic mouth music, but just using harmonised voices to create music. 


Listen to Donald, Willie and His Dog.




Track 5, The Burnin O Auchindoun is a traditional Scottish folk song relating how Auchindoun Castle was attacked and set on fire by Clan Mackintosh in the 16th century. It is sung with rhythmic precision and accompanied by tabla and violin and evokes an image of a military battle; in complete contrast the title track of the album, Love and Stillness, is a beautiful melody introduced by Stephen's guitar, taken up initially by individual singers, echoed by violin, and then all together creating exquisite harmonies - tabla and bodhran take over with chanting in the background creating a feeling of mysticism and meditation.


In Common Love and Stillness album

Three tracks, all composed by Tom Bancroft are Flower Child 1, Flower Child 2 and Flower Child 2b; 1 is a gentle duet between Stephen and Srivastava, while 2, featuring the whole band playing a cheerful melody, wouldn't sound out of place in a Bollywood movie. Stephen provides a great jazz solo on guitar followed by Srivastava on violin and then 2b returns to a reflective mood with solo guitar reprising the melody.  Track 11, Nette Ball was first performed by the Bancroft Di Castri Group at the 2016 Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival featuring Jacopo Albini on saxophone and Furio di Castri on double bass. In the version on this album the saxophone is replaced by voices and the double bass by bodhran, the vocal parts are sometimes word music, sometimes improvised scat singing, there are solos on guitar, violin and also a percussion duet between Bancroft on drums and Singh on tabla.  Track 12, is called 18 referring to the recurring 18 beat rhythm that is called a taal in Indian music, guitar and violin with some electronic enhancement conjuring up a modern version of traditional Indian sounds which are full of interest and innovation.

Having written about several Scottish bands for Sandy Brown Jazz including Fat Suit, Colin Steele and Square One I have never been disappointed by the quality of music, the ambition, innovation and the references to traditional Scottish music which are often present but never excessively so.  Tom Bancroft's In Common certainly has the same qualities and his exploration of the links or similarities between Scottish and Indian music within a jazz context is both very interesting and enjoyable.  While he is not the first musician to investigate associations and collaborate with Indian musicians, his album Love and Stillness, stands out because he has included wonderful vocal rhythmic patterns from the three vocalists who employ a variety of techniques.  Scat singing originated in the early 20th century but traditional mouth music in Scotland and konnakol in India have been around a lot longer, Sophie Bancroft, Gina Rae and Inge Thompson do not replicate these ancient techniques but what they do produce is wonderful.


Listen to Somehow Something.




Jazz and traditional music in Scotland have long been complementary, incorporating traditional music from another country that shares many common features adds even more to a winning combination.


Tom Bancroft recorded his Indian musicians in India and his journey is described in this video




Click here for details and samples of the album which is released on 15 March. Click here for Tom Bancroft's website.


Tom Bancroft

Tom Bancroft


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