Date: August 24, 2017
Venue: The Queen’s Hall (UK/Edinburgh)
Review by Fiona Mactaggart
In a relatively small city of less than half a million people, Edinburgh-based musicians not infrequently can find themselves playing in bands of mixed musical genres. Since 2003 Moishe’s Bagel, or “The Bagel” as they are affectionately known locally, are perhaps one of the most successful products of this fortuitous melding of musics, with four CD releases to date on the labels Eachday Music and Moishe’s Bagel, under their belts.
Whilst all Moishe’s Bagel band members, as is usually the case, started out with a western classical training, all have travelled through varying styles, and between them represent a cross section of some of the finest musicians in Scotland today. However they wear their expertise lightly, with a stage manner of near informality. Several of the band have been members of the widely lauded Salsa Celtica, and the lynch-pin of the band, pianist and accordionist Phil Alexander, also both ran his own salsa band, and previously played in a Jewish wedding band.
As for the rest of the band, indefatigable and flamboyant Greg Lawson (violin, mandolin) has played in many Scottish orchestras including the highly esteemed Scottish Chamber Orchestra, in theatre, and in rock and Celtic bands. Add to this already heterogeneous mix Brazilian double bassist Mario Caribe, well known in Scotland amongst Celtic music and especially jazz circles, but also renowned in his country of birth, unflappable accordionist Pete Garnett from a Scottish folk music background, and Indian music expert, percussionist Guy Nicholson, who is seated before an array of tablas, darabukas and congas.
Generally starting each piece quietly – take Caribe’s pensive introduction to Alexander’s beautiful “Timgad”, for example – before long, they are pelting into jubilant, high energy near – frenzy, whilst very rarely sacrificing accuracy.
Some pieces are super-polished Bagel – versions of traditional, often kletzmer tunes, such as the joyfully frantic “A Night in the Garden of Eden”, whilst others are penned by band members. Indeed amongst the latter where the band’s cinematic, western classical and witty qualities are most evident, are a varied selection from their 2015 commissioned soundtrack to Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1930’s Soviet classic, “Salt for Svanetia”, a propaganda film made in support of Stalin’s first Five Year Plan.
An interesting addition tonight, though not a completely comfortable fit, are two appearances of guest Fiona Hunter, a Scottish folk singer. Her fine folk soprano and Northern Scottish ballad lyrics are often hard to hear, such is the band’s exuberance, and suggests that joint rehearsal time may have been minimal.
However it would seem churlish to complain when presented with such a rich feast. The evening ends with Caribe’s wonderful “La Rumba Salvadora”, written for his clearly beloved Spanish-born grandmother who immigrated to Brazil, thus the piece changing midway from stately Spanish to the more rambunctious and free Brazilian style.
A standing ovation elicits a brief encore, leaving a happy audience puzzling why this group is not more widely known outside of the UK.