A solo sound in the silence

STUART McCallum has played with bands and with orchestras.

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Manchester guitarist Stuart McCallum plays a solo gig at the City Halls tonight
Manchester guitarist Stuart McCallum plays a solo gig at the City Halls tonight

But it's the sound of silence that interests the guitarist the most as he prepares to help kick off the Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Running from Wednesday until Sunday, the popular bash will feature a string of top musicians, from guitar great Martin Taylor to songstress Zara McFarlane, while the best local talent will be dropping by too.

Other shows include guitarist Kevin McKenzie and pianist Steve Hamilton running through the music of much loved Glasgow group the Blue Nile.

And the diverse programme is arguably best showcased by Stuart, who's the guitarist with the Cinematic Orchestra, the group who meld electronica and nu-jazz together.

Recent years have seen Stuart bring out his own solo records, often backed by other musicians and even an orchestra.

Yet his City Halls gig on Wednesday will see the Manchester native perform entirely solo.

"There is something fantastic about having all that silence and you're the only person filling it," he enthuses.

"It can make the intimate moments really intimate. It's not like a classical recital though, I'll be sampling things and using loops. And using a drumstick on a guitar at one point…

"There's no drums, which makes me think of the great Chet Baker quote where he was playing a festival and was asked if someone could sit in on drums for his next set.

"He said 'Man, he's got to be really good to be better than no drums at all…'

Stuart's last album, Distilled, weaved together his guitar playing, DJ programming and strings samples into a trippy, mellow listen, and it's obvious that Stuart, much like Glasgow Jazz Festival itself, has interests and tastes far beyond the stereotypical version of jazz music.

"What is jazz is the never-ending question, I guess," he says.

"I'm interested in other styles of music, and I suppose the music I'm most interested in making is rooted in the philosophy of jazz, in that it's instrumental with a lot of improvisation.

"There is a lot of other influences there other than just the 50s and 60s things that people tend to think of when jazz is discussed."

That philosophy comes despite a period when he was fascinated by jazz.

"I had a period where I was a bit of a jazz Nazi, but you have to have a certain commitment to a certain type of music to understand it," he adds.

"I guess it's just an ongoing progression, as you're changing all the time and you're inspired by different things."

That's displayed in his current projects. He's hard at work on a follow-up to Distilled, which is scheduled for release in September next year, and he's working with fellow guitarist Mike Walker, of the Impossible Gentlemen band, on an acoustic project.

His solo work looks to be pushing towards electronica more.

"It's going to be more moody, electronic stuff, although with the guitar still as a primary instrument," he says.

"There'll be less jazzy solos though and more composed music, maybe a bit more chopped up.

"It's all about learning. I want to grow and expand my musical development by collaborating with other people."

It doesn't sound like any of his current work will be on another Cinematic Orchestra record, though.

"They're working on another album, as they have been for the last seven years," he says, referring to the long gap since Ma Fleur.

His own music will clearly continue to be his main focus, and he agrees that there's cinematic inspiration running through the more sweeping pieces that he's written.

"I've always tried to create an atmosphere and have something that can work on different levels," he says.

"You could have it on in the background as a good soundtrack to what you're doing and there's nothing that'll jump out and make you go 'Oh, what's that?', but if you listen to it closely there's a lot of detail in there."

He has a few tips for any budding guitarists, too.

"Try and get a good teacher, and listen to all sorts of music, and make sure your practice has a sense of purpose," he suggests.

"Don't try too many things at once and just be patient."

l Stuart McCallum, City Halls, tonight, 9.30pm. £10.

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