A CHANCE meeting at a jazz festival in Poland has led to one of Scotland’s most talented young jazz groups touring and recording an album with a veteran of the New York scene and looking at potentially something longer term.

Square One were in Katowice to represent Glasgow as a Unesco City of Music when their guitarist, Joe Williamson, almost literally bumped into saxophonist Andy Middleton. Middleton, who is now based in Austria, where he is Professor of Jazz Composition, Jazz Theory and Jazz Saxophone at the University for Music and Art of the City of Vienna, remembered Williamson from a workshop and private lesson he had given at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow where Square One, all now graduates of the RCS jazz course, got together.

“Andy was giving a workshop in composition at the festival in a completely different part of the city and I’m not sure I even knew he was going to be there,” says Williamson. “So we had this sort of ‘fancy meeting you here’ moment and then later we hung out together and chatted and saw each other over the course of the weekend.”

During their private lesson together in Glasgow, Middleton had given Williamson some pointers on a composition he’d written that ended up on Square One’s debut album, In Motion. So, not thinking too much about it, Williamson gave his mentor a copy of the album to show him how the piece he had helped him with had turned out.

“I thought, this probably happens to him all the time because his touring schedule takes him all over Europe and keeps him really busy with workshops as well as gigs,” says Williamson. “So I was quite surprised when Andy got in touch a couple of months after we saw him in Katowice and suggested that we collaborate. It’s the sort of thing that a young band might suggest to the more experienced player more in hope than expectation, so for Andy to make the move was quite something.”

Middleton has worked with many of the greatest bandleaders and musicians in jazz over the past 30 years. Star orchestra leader Maria Schneider, bassist Dave Holland, guitarist Ralph Towner, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist Renee Rosnes have all called on his talents as a first rate saxophonist and improviser.

At the same time, though, it’s not so surprising that he heard qualities he liked in Square One. This is a group that includes two winners of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year title, in pianist Peter Johnstone and bassist David Bowden, and collectively it made a huge impression on the judges in winning the prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award in 2015, the prize money for which went towards the recording of In Motion.

“It’s always useful to bring up these achievements in terms of PR,” says Williamson. “But in some ways it’s everyone’s actual playing experience that has helped Square One develop. Pete, for example, plays with Tommy Smith’s current quartet and has worked with some of the top players in the world through being in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and David and our drummer, Stephen Henderson, are in constant demand as a rhythm team.”

Indeed, their individual diaries have made keeping Square One together quite a challenge as they’ve moved from being students gigging around town to full-time professional musician status.

“In the beginning and for quite a long time we would organise Square One gigs in Edinburgh and Glasgow every few weeks just to keep the music fresh in our minds while everyone was out there making a living,” says Williamson. “But more recently we’ve started to have projects to work towards, a tour, say, so that we can keep the band moving forward because it would be easy to let it stagnate. That’s why this project with Andy’s such a boon.”

With the aid of a Creative Scotland grant, the quartet has been able to plan a week’s worth of gigs with Middleton. Some of them in venues that are a step up from the bar gigs and jazz clubs they’ve been used to. They’ve also hired the services of a PR person for the first time. The composers in the group have been working on new material so that audiences will hear music that’s a stage further than they recorded on In Motion, as well as some of Middleton’s compositions. Having an album as part of the plan is another plus factor as it might lead to the Square One with Andy Middleton brand going further than a Scottish tour.

“We haven’t spoken to Andy about this and we wouldn’t want to presume anything but he does have contacts across Europe and he’ll be able to pass on copies of the album to people we’d never be able to reach,” says Williamson. “You can send out CDs, or links to music, as tends to be the case a lot of the time now, but unless you have someone making a direct, personal connection, your chances of being heard and paid attention to are pretty slim. We’d like to work with Andy in the longer term but we understand that he has his own busy career and commitments.”

The music the group has been working on for the tour reflects the wide ranging interests and influences of the individual musicians. At the same time, though, over the four years or so they’ve been together, they’ve developed a distinctive Square One sound.

“It’s interesting because I’m very much influenced by folk music, rock and progressive rock while David, especially with his other group Mezcla, works with ideas from African and Latin American styles,” says Williamson. “Then there’s Pete who is a great straightahead jazz pianist and listens to a lot of the current music that’s coming out of New York. But somehow all of this music feeds into something coherent.”

Away from Square One, Williamson and Henderson are two thirds of Spark Trio, which takes the organ-guitar-drums format into new territory and provides a contrasting modus operandi, working very much in the moment.

“Spark Trio is more about the players interacting on tunes that are launch pads for improvising,” says Williamson. “Whereas, although there’s always spontaneity when improvisation’s involved, Square One’s music tends to develop and go from section to section over seven or eight minutes.”

It was fine tuning just such a piece and working on joining the dots more subtly that brought Williamson and Middleton together on their first meeting, and for the guitarist getting the chance to work with someone of Middleton’s experience over a longer period is an exciting prospect.

“I think it’ll be interesting for the audiences, too,” he says. “It’s a chance to hear a top American player who hasn’t actually played in Scotland before and we’ll be doing our best to rise to his level, playing music that showcases many different shades of modern jazz. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Square One with Andy Middleton appear at The Hug and Pint, Glasgow on Thursday, March 8; Catstrand, New Galloway on Friday, March 9; Beacon Arts Centre, Saturday March 10; Tolbooth, Stirling, Sunday, March 11; An Tobar, Tuesday March 13; and The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Wednesday , March 14;