Standards Vol. III
The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland is neither jazz nor a trio, although it is at least partly Scottish. Bill Wells has been part of the Scottish jazz scene since the late '80s, but has always enjoyed working with musicians in the indie sector, including stints as a collaborator and arranger with Isobel Campbell, Jad Fair, Kevin Ayers, Future Pilot AKA and Maher Shalal Hash Baz. He has also worked with German electronica artists Stefan Schneider and Barbara Morgenstern and recorded Lemondale, an experimental, pop-tinged collection recorded with an eclectic cast of local musicians in Japan in 2011. The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland consists of Wells on samples, with a trio of female vocalists: Aby Vulliamy, Kate Sugden and Lorna Gilfedder. Onstage, Aby plays viola, Kate marimba and other potential live players include Teenage Fanclub guitarist Norman Blake and Babe vocalist Gerard Black. The group's debut recording The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland's Christmas Album (KK 070LP), was released in late 2012, followed by Standards Vol. II (KK 074CD/LP) in 2013. Their new album is titled Standards Vol. III, although the description isn't strictly accurate. "Well, it's partly a nod towards the more standard way of songwriting, although structurally most of these songs aren't actually written in a similar way," says Wells. "To me the best ideas are strong melodies on interesting changes, going back to the classic songwriters. It's a pretty old fashioned idea and I don't think that it's the way that most people write these days when using computers." Wells' music had always been hallmarked by a directness and economy of musical line, and the fact that his pop music is pared down to just vocals and a lean musical accompaniment is, in fact, one of its strengths. Wells wrote all the songs on the album with the exception of The Beach Boys' "With Me Tonight" and the lyrics to "Surprising Word," written by Saya from the Japanese band, Tenniscoats, and "Trying to Escape You," written by Lorna Gilfedder. The material on Standards Vol. III hints at a diverse range of influences: the bossa nova of Antônio Carlos Jobim, the simple piano accompaniment of Brian Wilson, and the wider vocabulary of chord changes in the songs of Laura Nyro and in Todd Rundgren's earlier work. Wells also admits that some of his electronica may well be influenced by Stefan Schneider's work with Mapstation. And as he plays samples, Wells is keen that his soundworld avoids anything too generic, and that there is a little bit of grit in the mix. One of the most striking aspects of Standards Vol. III is its mix of pure-toned singing and cryptic, bittersweet, sometimes darkly humorous lyrics, as on the twinkly, music box-like "Unguarded Moment" with the lines, "Got me when I least expected/Found it where I didn't look/Hit me like a block of concrete on a hook." On "Alive and Well," rather than being metaphorical or a fanciful notion, the lines, "It's been the hottest summer that we've had for a while/The shower isn't working because of a broken tile," were an accurate summary of the facilities in the bathroom of Wells' Glasgow tenement home last year, where the album was recorded.