The National Jazz Trio of Scotland - Standards Vol. III
Far-from-standard record combining a range of genres including electronica, bossa nova rhythms and haunting pop purity
If this is your first encounter with the Bill Wells-helmed National Jazz Trio of Scotland, you may be surprised by the lack of jazz on the menu, by the utterly unembroidered singing style of his virtually indistinguishable trio of wistful vocalists Abi Vulliamy, Kate Sugden and Lorna Gilfedder who float over the top of Wells’ compositions with barely a beat to guide them and by the arithmetical conclusion that this trio therefore comprises four musicians.
Wells hails from a jazz background but over the years of collaboration with indie musicians such as Isobel Campbell, Norman Blake and Aidan Moffat has stripped back his musical signature, preferring to evoke an atmosphere with sparingly deployed instrumentation and samples.
Standards Vol. III is standard only in that respect. On ‘Alive and Well’, a breathy litany of everyday annoyances is wrapped in a soft blanket of ambient electronica, with fleeting guest appearances for organ, while the soothing monotone vocals continue to waft through ‘Rare Species’.
The airy mood is sustained throughout, while the musical style subtly fluctuates with the use of impish lo-fi baroque keyboards on ‘Unguarded Moment’, the featherlight touch of bossa nova rhythms on ‘Surprising Word’ and the oriental flavour of finger piano on ‘Buchanan Street’, a dwam of a paean to Glasgow’s bustling shopping street.
There are emotional layers and contrasts to be heard in the less-is-more vocals too. Get beyond the superficially winsome tone of the delivery, and the valedictory ‘Getting Out’ is more bitter than sweet, more plaintive than triumphal. Usually, the girls sing solo but their overdubbed voices intertwine with more expression on a cover of the Beach Boys’ a cappella number ‘With Me Tonight’ (from Smiley Smile) which is stripped back even further than the original and delivered with a haunting choral pop purity.