by Peter Callaghan
With his Paolo Nutini good looks, Harry Connick Jr smooth vocals and Cole Porter knack of writing deceptively simple yet tightly structured tunes, which sound as though they’ve been lifted straight out of The Great American Songbook, it’s easy to see why singer-saxophonist Mads Mathias won the Danish Music Award for Best New Jazz Artist Of The Year in 2015.
Add to the mix his self-deprecating humour, easy chit-chat between songs and fine ensemble of excellent musicians who include Edinburgh’s own Brian Kellock on piano – who recorded two sublime albums with Mathias’s fellow Dane Cathrine Legardh: Gorgeous Creature and the more recent Love Still Wears A Smile – the resident drummer with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Alyn Cosker and the distinguished New York-based bass player John Webber, and what you get is probably one of the most enjoyable, accomplished and accessible gigs at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival.
Kicking off the first of two six-song sets was a track from his 2012 debut solo album Free Falling called Do Do, which he dryly forewarned us was not about the contents of a child’s diaper but a rallying cry to embrace the Nike slogan Just Do It – which he did, swiftly and effortlessly, giving each of his musicians ample time and respect to showcase their undoubted talents in a series of improvisational riffs.
Next up, a classic with a contemporary twist: Irving Berlin’s Isn’t This A Lovely Day?, from the 1935 film Top Hat, which given the thunderstorms and lightning strikes, which descended upon the city first thing in the morning drew wry smiles from the audience and the joker-in-the-pack Kellock who unleashed the first of a series of trademark one-liners. The funniest being a follow-up to Mathias’s story about his six-year-old son mispronouncing “Edinburgh” as “Angry Birds”, which Kellock said without missing a beat “was like a Friday night on Lothian Road”.
This was followed by three more self-penned love songs interspersed by an up tempo version of Tea For Two in which Mathias alternated between sax and vocals at the drop of a posh pinky. Two from his album: a dreamy Favourite Kind Of Girl and a philosophical take on getting older and taking your chances before it’s too late called What Is Time? And It’s Summer Again, a swinging staple of his big band, the Ronseal-inspired Mads Mathias Orchestra.
After “a cheeky pint” during the interval, he returned to the Studio stage of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre with a cryptic but entertaining aside about an old Danish phrase “you get your appetite out, but you always eat at home” which formed the thematic link of the next three songs: Fool For Love about buying flowers from a flirtatious girl but avoiding temptation and giving them to the love of his life; The Henpecked Man based upon a series of short-lived romantic encounters in his youth; and Trust Me I’m Sure inspired by an old school friend who “had trouble receiving the female signal”.
Two of the final three songs of the evening were straight out of the canon of great American standards, which he so obviously adores and is influenced by: the first by one of his favourite composers and songwriters Cole Porter, Night And Day, featuring an inspired drum solo from Alyn Cosker; the second, a tender version of Jimmy Van Heusen’s Nancy With The Loving Face which he informed us was one of Frank Sinatra’s favourite songs, which he sung at his daughter Nancy’s birthday party – which I presume was long before she donned her boots and started walking!
And to finish, the title track from his debut solo album Free Falling, which gave rise to one of the greatest understatements of the evening: “it’s a fast song”. To which he added, “So you guys will go out running.” But nothing could have been further from the truth for the appreciative audience would have stayed all night for yet another timeless classic or humorous riposte from Kellock on piano who unsurprisingly managed to get the last word in with “not yet” in response to Mathias’s running out the door comment.
“The good thing about the Scottish,” said Mathias, “is you’re the only ones who understand Danish jokes. “The good thing about the Danish is they’ve produced yet another great jazz musician in Mads Mathias whose Scottish debut at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival will hopefully be the first of many visits to our “one swallow doesn’t make a summer” shores.