Transatlantic Connection Inspires Fiery Orchestral Manoeuvres

Feistiness, defiance, creativity, and down-home gospel-blues grooves fire up the latest video “single” from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Courage: Jeep on 35°.

Featuring special guest, Chicagoan vocalist Kurt Elling, the video is the orchestra’s third release during the pandemic and captures singer and orchestra in exuberant form in front of an enthusiastic Glasgow audience at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Jeep on 35° is a composition by triple Grammy Award-winning guitarist John Scofield, here given a vocalese with attitude by Nina Clark, the English musical activist and 21st century minstrel.

Taken from the song cycle Syntopicon, which brings human traits and values including knowledge and wisdom, good and evil, language and joy to musical life, Jeep on 35° was chosen to represent courage, and Elling doesn’t hold back. He inhabits lyrics and melody with huge personality and a masterly range of rich vocal tones and agile phrasing.

At the time of the concert, Elling and the SNJO had already toured Scotland three years previously. They had also headlined at London Jazz Festival and Jazz Sous les Pommiers in Normandy and recorded together in New York. The resultant familiarity allows Elling to be, at once, the star singer and one of the band, revelling in both an exchange of sophisticated, creative improvisations and a fiercely committed, bluesy conversation with SNJO director, saxophonist Tommy Smith.

“We collaborated with Kurt again the following year to celebrate Sinatra’s centenary and on a dynamic choral project entitled Spirit of Light in 2017, and he always delivers, as you would expect from an artist who is widely regarded as the world’s top jazz vocalist,” says Tommy Smith. “Jeep on 35° is prime Kurt Elling and the orchestra was on great form that night too.”  

Arranged by Chicago-born pianist and composer Jim McNeely, Courage: Jeep on 35° follows two previous videos released by the SNJO during the Covid-19 pandemic, a special arrangement of Sam Cooke’s civil rights era classic A Change is Gonna Come, with musicians from New York, San Francisco, London and Scotland, and Free Your Mind, a showcase for Texas-born rising vocal star Jazzmeia Horn.

The video is live on the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/-pXQyOrhTMA 

Adam Roberts

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