Scottish guitarist Kevin Mackenzie releases the first recording with his latest group this Friday, March 5.
Prime Trio features Mackenzie with the former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Peter Johnstone on organ and first-call drummer Doug Hough, and Mackenzie is excited by both the instrumentation and the personnel involved.
“The great thing for me about an organ trio is that it’s really a very compact unit and yet there are so many possibilities in terms of harmony. You can get a very full sound,” says Mackenzie, whose previous groups have included Trio AAB, with the Bancroft twins, Tom and Phil, the jazz-funk styled Swirler and the folk-jazz fusion ensemble Vital Signs.
Working in what has historically been a very popular format in jazz, with literally dozens of examples from the 1950s onwards, is both inspiring and slightly tricky, and Mackenzie concedes that finding a unique approach in a crowded market took some time.
“You think of all the guitar-organ-drums line-ups there have been and it can be daunting to follow people like Larry Goldings and Melvin Rhyne, who are two of my favourites,” says Mackenzie. “There are so many albums out there already but it’s not a question of trying to surpass the greats who have gone before because that’s impossible. It’s more about finding a sound, a style that reflects our own personalities individually and collectively and I think we’ve struck a balance between acknowledging our forebears and sounding like ourselves.”
The trio formed some three years ago and gigged around Scotland before the Covid pandemic brought live music to a halt. Mackenzie, who is a generation older than his two colleagues, met Johnstone in the late 2000s when the latter was a student on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland jazz course in Glasgow, where the guitarist teaches.
“We actually had a trio with one of Pete’s RCS contemporaries, John Lowrie, but other projects got in the way until I started to see Pete on Scottish National Jazz Orchestra gigs. We resurrected the trio idea and Doug was the obvious candidate to bring in on drums. It was one of these situations where everything just feels right.”
The trio recorded the five tracks on their debut EP in January last year and as the Covid hiatus dragged on Mackenzie decided to prepare the recording for release rather than have the group appearing to be completely inactive.
“We’re probably aiming for the festivals in 2022 in terms of live work,” he says. “But I thought we should have something ready to show people what we sound like. What I particularly like about this group is, it’s a cooperative. Pete and I both compose and everyone contributes arrangement ideas. The EP has two tunes each by Pete and myself plus a version of Invitation, a jazz standard by Branislaw Kaper, and the result, I think, is a good showcase of the trio. It was recorded in a studio but it’s very much what people will hear us doing on a gig. So we just have to hope that won’t be too long.”
Prime Trio (photo by Colin Black)