From his early musical creations in folk sessions before moving on to youthful punk and heavy metal, guitarist Joe Williamson has evolved into a creative and catalytic presence within Glasgow’s bubbling young jazz scene.
The 28-year-old guitarist, voted Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year in 2018, is paired with powerful ‘progressive jazz’ outfits as the head of the five-member Animal Society (he has been described as Pat Metheny meets Rage Against the Machine) and the late Square One quartet, which won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2015. They also play in drummer Graham Costello’s monumental STRATA. On December 12, however, during the Scottish Jazz Weekend in Edinburgh, Williamson unveils what he calls a âquasi-acoustic quartetâ.
His co-members are all musicians he’s used to playing with – pianist and Animal Society band member Alan Benzie, bassist Brodie Jarvie and drummer Stephen Henderson. âI describe it as an ‘almost acoustic’ quartet,â says Williamson, âalthough I will always play electric guitar. But it will be good to come back to double bass and grand piano.
The sound of the quartet, he adds, âwill certainly be different from those of Animal Society or STRATA. When I write music for Animal Society, for example, it’s almost like writing for a band I want to be in and having this idea of ââcombining the heavy rock that I love with jazz and synths. With this new group, I thought about musicians before thinking about music; I thought of Brodie and Alan and Stephen then sat down to write, with more thoughtful compositions rather than long epics. It’s more stripped down, melodic – quite folk in some ways, which is something in my musical education that I keep coming back to.
This upbringing, in Darlington, County Durham, saw him attending sessions and festivals with his accordionist mother, who led a ceilidh group. âThen when I was a teenager I got into rock, punk and metal. “His leap towards jazz was radical at the age of 16:” I had been playing the guitar very acutely for several years and I was looking for a challenge, he recalls. This challenge manifested itself in an obvious way when he was preparing for an AS Level Music exam and a fixed job was So What by Miles Davis: âI had never heard it before, we studied it in depth and this was a real turning point, because I was also looking for something new on the guitar. So I quickly went down into the rabbit holeâ¦ â
The Rabbit Hole led him to the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, where he emerged in 2016 with first class honors. That year he was commissioned to compose a piece celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Glasgow Jazz Festival. Since then, apart from his various electric jazz-rock adventures, he has performed with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and with rising singer Georgia CÃ©cile, among others.
Returning to the upcoming Scottish Jazz Weekend, hosted by the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, bassist of Williamson’s former Square One (and another award-winning RCS graduate) David Bowden, who leads the famous global jazz band Mezcla, returns to Edinburgh Weekend as part of Criss Cross Europe, a collaboration directed and mentored by American drummer Jim Black.
On the more traditional side, the Edinburgh event, which hosts both live and streaming events at Assembly Roxy, will also feature vintage jazz and blues from historic Edinburgh singer and jazz specialist Ali Affleck and of his group. Trumpeter Colin Steele and reedsman Martin Kershaw will also greet jazz alumni with their celebration of the Adderley brothers, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.
Famous Edinburgh guitarist Aki Remally will lead a specially assembled funk and soul group, while upcoming talent will include Glasgow songwriter-guitarist Nathan Somevi, who emerged during the ‘Introducing’ concert series of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, while other new names will take the “open call phase.”
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