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Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 30/08/2014.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 30/08/2014.

Ian Mann enjoys a rich variety of music on the first day of the second Wall2Wall Jazz Festival including performances from Zoe Gilby, Will Butterworth ,Ceri Williams and Willie Garnett.

Photograph of Zoe Gilby sourced from http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk


Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival,  Abergavenny 30/08/2014.

The success of the inaugural Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in 2013 saw Mike Skilton of Black Mountain Jazz presenting a more ambitious programme for this second venture. A Stroller Programme presented music at three different stages around the town and a more formal concert series saw four performances staged at the Borough Theatre. A number of free “pop up” gigs occurred in the streets and education was also an important factor with visiting artists hosting master classes and workshops on both days of the festival. 

The concert programme featured performances by The Three Belles (an Andrews Sisters inspired vocal trio) and by the National Jazz Youth Jazz Orchestra on the Saturday and by an extended 606 Gospel Group on Sunday, this following a successful performance by a smaller version of the group in 2013. Singer Jacqui Dankworth closed the theatre programme on Sunday evening, attracting a particularly good attendance following some welcome national press attention in the Welsh media.

The preponderance of vocal jazz (not always my favourite genre of the music) plus the fact that I’d covered NYJO very recently at Titley Jazz led to me electing to review the Stroller Programme, which again offered an admirably diverse variety of acts plying across a variety of jazz styles. Ironically this included some excellent vocal performances but I’ll come to those later. 

For me Saturday began at the outdoor stage in the picturesque setting of the ruins of Abergavenny Castle, a delightful location with food concessions ringing the green space adjacent to the covered performance area. The relaxed atmosphere led to some enjoyable musical performances on both days with the Sunday enjoying the best of the weather. Mercifully the rain stayed away throughout the weekend although there was a distinct autumnal chill in the air for much of Saturday. 

WILLIE GARNETT QUARTET

First on stage was the veteran tenor saxophonist Willie Garnett, a legendary figure in British jazz and a great friend to jazz in Abergavenny over the years. Garnett played a well attended free gig in the company of a quartet featuring Phil Mead (keyboard), Ollie Blanchflower (double bass) and John Gibbon (drums). Gibbon is something of a local hero having run Gibb’s Jazz Club in Abergavenny for many years as well as facilitating a series of tours in South Wales and the Welsh Borders featuring his trio (most often Mead and bassist Erica Lyons) backing visiting London based soloists, Garnett often featuring amongst them. He now runs the town’s Station Hotel which still hosts occasional jazz events.

Garnett and the quartet delivered an enjoyable standards based set with the saxophonists burly physique matched by his bluesy, forthright tenor playing. Most of the tunes featured solos by Garnett and Mead, the latter a highly accomplished pianist who has adapted his technique to suit the electric Yamaha keyboard he usually plays on club dates. Mead always sounds good on electric piano. Blanchflower was also featured extensively, a well respected pro on the London jazz scene for many years he has now re-located to Malvern, Worcestershire but remains a propulsive and accurate time keeper and a fluent and imaginative bass soloist. Meanwhile it’s sometimes easy to forget just how good a drummer Gibbon is, he’s a musician who likes to have fun on stage and can’t resist clambering out from behind his kit to deliver joke strewn tune and band announcements. However behind the clowning there lies a highly competent musician.

Today’s set included the standards “I Thought About You”, “It’s You Or No One” “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” and “Here Comes That Rainy Day”, the cue for a series of weather related jokes.
Tadd Dameron’s “Early Bird” featured a typically quirky and colourful Gibbon drum solo before Garnett sat out for “My One And Only Love”, the trio setting a good showcase for Mead’‘s keyboard skills. Garnett returned to round off the set with “The More I See You” and a joyous “Take The A Train”. No real surprises here, but a highly enjoyable start nevertheless.


BEN TREACHER TRIO

The young saxophonist Ben Treacher is a graduate of the jazz course at the Royal College of Music in Cardiff. He is currently studying for a Masters at the Trinity Laban School of Music in London. Last year he appeared co-leading a quintet featuring fellow saxophonist Martha Skilton.

Playing as part of the Stroller Programme at the outdoor stage at Abergavenny Priory Treacher was joined by the superb rhythm section of bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Ollie Howell, both acquaintances from Treacher’s Cardiff days. Howell, a late addition, is also a skilled bandleader and composer and his “Sutures and Stitches” album was one of the best début recordings of 2013. Howell’s quintet, featuring Thorne, delivered an impressive performance at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Today the focus was largely on jazz and bebop standard alongside the occasional Treacher original. The saxophonist is relatively unusual in that he doubles up on alto and tenor saxophones, with the alto as his main horn. However Treacher started on tenor for spirited readings of Sonny Rollins’ “Tenor Madness” and the standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”. Treacher then switched to alto for the rest of the set but something of the Rollins spirit remained in the free-wheeling way that the trio approached their material with Howell’s polyrhythmic flow driving the saxophonist forward as Thorne fulfilled the anchor role to perfection. It was an altogether looser and more contemporary approach to the standards repertoire than Garnett’s with the inclusion of both “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” and “Take The A Train” inviting direct comparisons. I’m not going to come down in favour of one side or the other, both approaches are equally valid and I enjoyed them both.

In this exposed setting without a conventional chordal instrument each member was given plenty of space in which to express themselves. Treacher convinced on both tenor and alto saxes (he can also play soprano) while Thorne also impressed as a soloist and Howell revelled in his freedom behind the kit. Mentored by such music industry legends as Quincy Jones and Jimmy Cobb Howell is definitely one to watch, but keep your eyes open for Treacher and Thorne, too.

Treacher’s set also included Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” plus an original written during an exchange visit to Amsterdam, the Dutch title translating as “chopping board” ! The trio concluded with a good natured take on the “Flintstones” theme, twisting the familiar phrase out of recognition before reeling it back in again.

I rather enjoyed all this as the classically trained Treacher confirmed his status as a highly promising young musician. His two colleagues offered him great support in a set that saw them battling for sonic supremacy with the bells of the neighbouring St. Mary’s Church, a struggle that also engaged later acts on this stage. It was also unfortunate that there weren’t a few more people around to witness these three young tyros, the Priory stage was poorly supported throughout the festival and was a little cut off from the other Stroller venues at the Castle and at the Kings Arms. On reflection perhaps two Stroller venues would have been sufficient and would have prevented audience numbers being spread so thinly.

DAN OWEN

Up at the regular Black Mountain Jazz club venue the Kings Arms Dan Owen aka Blues Boy Dan was wowing the audience with his ferocious acoustic guitar playing and extraordinary vocals. Born as recently as 1992 he is a rising star of the blues scene who has been mentored by none other than Mick Fleetwood.

Owen’s voice, a stentorian growl that recalls Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Edgar Broughton is completely at odds with his fresh faced, almost cherubic appearance. He sounds like an old testament preacher and the voice of the lesser known Barnaby “Doc” Neill of the Yorkshire based Revelator Blues Band also came to mind. His furious guitar playing and vigorous foot stomping was akin to Seasick Steve and even during the couple of numbers I caught he managed to break a string, getting a hand clapping audience to keep the beat as he changed guitars. 

The Kings Arms crowd clearly loved him and I immediately found myself regretting that I hadn’t seen rather more of this. I consoled myself with the fact that as Owen hails from Shrewsbury, not far up the road from me, I’d soon find an opportunity to see him again. However a glance at his website http://www.bluesboydanowen.com reveals that he plays all over the UK and Europe, many of these dates being festival appearances, and that he doesn’t really do “local” gigs any more. I predict that his star will continue to rise and that he’ll develop a loyal cult following. In the meantime I’ll continue to keep an eye on his schedule and look to catch a full set from him sometime. 

BASIN STREET BRAWLERS

Down at the Castle stage the young London based trad jazz revivalists the Basin Street Brawlers were also pleasing their audience. Led by the young trumpeter/vocalist Pete Horsfall the band’s début album “It’s Tight Like That!” features a seven piece band but today’s line up was a more compact quartet with Horsfall joined by album personnel Martin Wheatley (guitar, vocals) and Ewan Bleach (clarinet, tenor sax) plus Jonathan Vinton on electric piano. Again I only caught the tail end of their set but their take on the classic jazz of the 1920s and 30s seemed to go down well with the festival crowd. The band’s youthful brio and enthusiasm breathed a fresh life into their source material and I’m told that their second appearance at the Kings Arms later in the day went down a storm. Wall2Wall is all about variety and I’m sure that every festival goer must have found something to their own personal taste.

HEAVY QUARTET

The nature of the festival entailed that choices had to be made but thanks to the Stroller format it was possible to dip in and out of things so this festival review is unusual in that it contains very few complete performances. I snatched little more than a morsel of perennial festival favourites the Heavy Quartet at the Priory stage. Veterans of the Brecon Jazz festival this cult Cardiff band has always had more than four members, some line ups have featured a full eleven players! Today’s line up, led by trombonist Gareth Roberts in the absence of saxophonist and founding member Rob Smith consisted of seven musicians including long standing members Nils Andersson (trumpet) and Neil Pedder (synths), the latter forming part of an unusual, and new for the Heavies, twin keyboard configuration. I only caught the first couple of items, among them the Roberts composition “Urban Trad”, before having to move on – those festival choices again. I love the Heavies and have done for years, but I have seen them frequently and hope to catch them again at the Queens Head in Monmouth later in the year. In the meantime, for anybody new to the band, do check them out, they’re a consistently entertaining live act and they produce convincing albums, the most recent being “Hardware” from 2009.  And at least they were loud enough to drown out the sound of those bloody bells! 

WILL BUTTERWORTH QUARTET

Pianist and composer Will Butterworth has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages. Local family connection have ensured that the Edinburgh born, London based musician has played a good number of gigs in the Welsh Marches leading a variety of different line ups. Butterworth’s quartet played a Black Mountain Jazz club night earlier in the year but I missed them due to the winter floods so I was particularly keen to catch them today, particularly as they would be playing new material composed by Butterworth, a suite inspired by the Oscar Wilde children’s story “The Nightingale And The Rose”.

Unfortunately there was no acoustic piano available for Butterworth’s use and he had to make do with a hired Roland RD500 keyboard (not his own) which kept cutting out during soundcheck. At one point we feared we might not hear any music at all! Eventually the band, in conjunction with the sound engineer at the Kings Arms, found a mix that they were happy with and the performance eventually began. Thankfully the Roland behaved itself for the duration and despite the unpromising start this turned out to be one of the best gigs of the day.

Introducing the suite Butterworth explained that sometimes the quartet performed it as a single entity, but on other occasions they may decide to break between movements. This was indicative of the fact that despite the strong written framework there was also plenty of scope for the individual members to express themselves, both individually and collectively, Butterworth being a musician who places great emphasis on genuine group interaction. His colleagues today were regular quartet members Seb Pipe (alto sax) and Nick Pini (double bass) with Marco Quarantotto filling the drum chair in the absence of regular drummer Pete Ibbotson. Butterworth has worked with Pipe in the drumless trio Tournesol and Pini is the latest of a series of excellent bass collaborators which has included Matt Ridley and Marcus Penrose.

Today’s performance was divided into four distinct sections but the conceptual feel was apparent throughout. The music was distinguished by strong melodies and sophisticated rhythmic ideas that sometimes drew on the styles of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich with Butterworth’s piano ostinati frequently underpinning Pipe’s pure toned alto solos.  Pini also proved to be an inspired bass soloist and his rapport with Butterworth was palpable throughout and involved the use of both pizzicato and arco techniques. Quarantotto’s drumming subtly drove the music forward but also provided splashes of colour with the drummer skilfully deploying a variety of sticks, brushes and mallets. Solos were not signposted but Butterworth, Pipe and Pini each had spells leading the group, the transitions skilfully blurred in the manner of a regular working group. This was immersive music with the more formal written passages melding unobtrusively and organically with the improvised moments. The quartet’s blending of classical discipline and rigour with the improvisatory freedom of jazz was highly effective with Butterworth’s keyboards at the heart of the music, whether as the featured soloist or adopting a more supportive role as the harmonic and rhythmic linchpin. Even on the ailing Roland Butterworth proved himself to be a musician of flair, intelligence and a huge technical facility.

The suite was well received by a small but discerning audience and is music that deserves to be documented on disc. Speaking to Butterworth after the gig he revealed that the suite has already been recorded by the quartet of himself, Pipe, Pini and Ibbotson and that it should reach the public domain at some point. His next scheduled release is a live trio recording with Pini and Ibbotson captured at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. The Oscar Wilde suite will come after that, so I’d guess we’re looking at 2015 or even 2016 for the latter. In any event any release from the modest but hugely talented Butterworth will be well worth waiting for. This is a musician who has thus far been under recorded, his is a musical voice that deserves to be more widely heard. 

ZOE GILBY TRIO

The Saturday evening Stroller Programme began at the Priory stage with a trio led by Newcastle based vocalist and songwriter Zoe Gilby who was accompanied by Mark Williams on guitar and by her husband, Andy Champion on double bass. I first saw this trio in Lichfield in 2010 and the three constitute a regular performing unit and song writing team. It’s the original songs that make Gilby stand out from the crowd and a number of these were included her alongside some innovative “vocalese” interpretations and a smattering of jazz standards.

They began with the sassy original “Is It Me?”, which Gilby described as a “a song about being annoyed”. The singer is a confident performer with a good sense of humour and a pleasantly down to earth persona who takes pride in her North East roots.

Dave Brubeck’s “Travelin’ Blues” was given lyrics by Carmen McRae and today’s version featured a fine blues influenced solo from the excellent Williams.

Next came Gilby’s own “The Midnight Bell”,  one of her most affecting original songs and a depiction of seedy goings on at a fictional London pub that appears in the writings of the author Patrick Hamilton. 

“Time After Time” was inspired by the version recorded by Chet Baker and included another effective Williams solo plus some almost implausibly deep vocals from Gilby in a scat episode that really tested her range and also included improvised lyrics that name checked the festival and its location, some of the other performers and threw in a commercial for her own CD for good measure!

Gilby’s literary leanings were again given voice on the original “In It Together” which compared the “chapters” of a relationship with those of a book as Williams and Champion provided instrumental commentary.

Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” was a romp with more joyous scat vocalising and more lively guitar and bass soloing.

Tom Waits likes to think of his songs as “orphans” - that’s when he’s not referring to them as “Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards”. “Way Down In The Hole” found a home on the soundtrack to the cult US TV series “The Wire”, which is where Gilby found it. She and Champion also perform intimate voice and bass duo gigs and this song with its gospel inspired hell-fire preacher style lyrics is an integral part of their sets. It was given an effective duo reading here as Williams took a breather.

The trio couldn’t visit South Wales without performing their extraordinary version of 70s Cardiff based power trio Budgie’s “Parents”. Gilby revealed that their interpretation had gained the band’s seal of approval and that Budgie’s former drummer (Ray Phillips, as I recall) had actually brought a copy of Gilby’s CD “Twelve Stories”, the album on which it appears. “Twelve Stories” also includes the talents of drummer Richard Brown and trumpeter Noel Dennis.

The performance concluded with the evocative “Red City”, an excellent original and one of the stand out tracks of the “Twelve Stories” album. With its distinctive North African flavour the piece is a brilliant homage to the delights of Marrakesh, the city where the husband and wife team of Gilby and Champion spent their honeymoon. The piece proved to be a particular favourite of the small but appreciative audience who were denied an encore only because Champion had to travel on to Bristol where he was due to play an evening gig with a very different trio, the loud, powerful, rock influenced Shiver featuring former trioVD guitarist Chris Sharkey.

Meanwhile today’s performance by the Zoe Gilby Trio had been hugely enjoyable with Zoe’s good humoured presentation enhanced by some excellent vocal and instrumental moments and an imaginative selection of original and outside material. Gilby’s shows are highly distinctive and her star seems destined to continue to rise.

KIZZY CRAWFORD

Up at the Kings Arms the young singer, guitarist and songwriter Kizzy Crawford was delighting a rather larger crowd. She played a club gig for BMJ earlier in the year which I was forced to miss as it was moved from its original date. More recently Crawford appeared on the BBC Radio Four series “Playing The Skyline” in Wales based episode that also featured pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock.

Although stretching the definition of jazz Crawford proved to be a very welcome inclusion on the Wall2Wall programme. Her fragile but soulful voice was augmented by her own guitar playing and the presence of a second vocal mic plus a looping device that allowed her to create layers of vocal and instrumental sounds. I got there in time to hear her perform three songs with “Hall Of Mirrors” followed by the new single “Golden Brown” which comes in both Welsh and English versions (Crawford is fully bilingual) and has absolutely nothing to do with The Stranglers. Called back for an encore she played “Save Me”, one of a number of “self empowering songs” to issue from her pen.

Crawford is still very young and possesses considerable potential. She’s not a jazz performer as such and seems destined to achieve a broader success. It’s interesting that some of the most vociferous receptions of the weekend were for artists who weren’t strictly jazz at all (Owen and Crawford today), which is slightly concerning for die hards such as myself. Oh dear, I think I can heat the anti -jazz lobby sharpening their pens.

DIGBY FAIRWEATHER QUINTET

Over at the Castle I caught a quick glimpse of trumpeter, cornetist and vocalist Digby Fairweather who was playing alongside Willie Garnett, Phil Mead, Ollie Blanchflower and John Gibbon. Fairweather was one of the first jazz artists I saw playing live and I remember with affection his numerous appearances in Ludlow in the late 70s and early 80s.

Fairweather has been a great populariser of the music and has hosted his own radio shows. However tonight was the first time I’d seen him perform live in years. These days he seems to sing as much as play and I caught the last two numbers of his set, credible vocal readings of Robert Johnson’s “Going To Chicago” and Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson’s “Roll ‘em Pete”. Alongside Fairweather’s anglicised blues vocals we heard his plunger muted cornet on “Chicago” and both tunes also featured solos from Garnett and Mead.

As befits a radio presenter Fairweather likes to talk and he bigged up the festival as well as waxing lyrical about the late George Melly. All very worthy but he rather overdid the verbals and could easily have squeezed another tune into the set list. Nonetheless those who had been there for the duration certainly signalled their approval.

THE X PROJECT

Ceri Williams was the mainstay of the nearby Torfaen Jazz Society for many years and was the organiser of many excellent gigs featuring local, national and international names in the Torfaen/Pontypool area.

However he’s also a highly accomplished trumpeter and in recent times has opted to concentrate on his playing, passing over the organisational reins to others. Williams is a versatile player with an interest in every era of jazz trumpeting from the 1920s to the present day, “practically a whole century” as he puts it. On Sunday we were to hear his trad outfit but tonight it was the turn of the contemporary Ceri as he unveiled his new X Project band with the emphasis on funk and fusion and music that was “all about the groove”.

Joining Williams were Bryn Davies on tenor sax, Pete Phillips on keyboards and synthesiser, Jason Rogers on electric basses and Nick Barron at the drums with guest vocalist Sally Thomas joining the quintet on selected items.

The perennially popular Lee Morgan composed “Sidewinder” got things off to a terrific start with solos from Williams, Davies and Phillips. Williams is also a great educator and was among the first to spot the talent of young Bryn Davies, now a student at the RWCMD in Cardiff. Davies was in inspired form throughout tonight’s set, featuring on every piece and delivering solos of exceptional power and fluency. Now more than ever he looks like a name to watch.

Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time” was famously covered by Miles Davis. Here Phillips’ synth washes cushioned Williams’ Miles style solo on muted trumpet before things took a funkier turn with solos from Davies on tenor and Rogers on electric bass. 

Sally Thomas added her soulful vocals to “Nothing But The Blues” with Barron’s solid backbeat also fuelling instrumental solos from Davies and Williams. The following “Think Twice” also featured the singer plus the slap bass of Rogers, a typically incisive tenor solo from Davies and a closing drum feature from Barron.

Williams’ choice of the Neil Yates composition “Frozen Forest” revealed just how wide his fields of interest regarding trumpet playing are. Formerly a prolific session musician Yates has developed a distinctive way of playing the instrument that is strongly influenced by Celtic folk music. Williams tackled this piece on flugel, utilising a Line 6 looper to great effect as he treated his sound to create ethereal layered textures and combined effectively with Phillips’ keyboards. Davies’ tenor provided a balancing grit and earthiness. 

Sally Thomas returned to sing an obscure Aretha Franklin number, “Everybody’s Talkin’ About The Blues” which saw Phillips adopting a church organ sound. As darkness fell and the temperature plummeted young Bryn Davies could be seen blowing on his hands prior to launching into his tenor solo.

Williams is a fan of the leading contemporary American trumpeter Roy Hargrove and the X Project concluded an excellent set with Hargrove’s slyly funky composition “Strasbourg St. Denis” with solos from Davies, Williams, Phillips and Davies again.

The newly formed X Project looks like a project with legs. Initially I hadn’t intended to stay for the whole performance but the combination of in the pocket grooves from Rogers and Barron plus the quality soloing of Williams, Phillips and the show stealing Davies were too good to resist. Thomas’ vocals added a welcome touch of variety and the singer also acquitted herself well.

This is the kind of music that can end up sounding neutered and overproduced on record but which works very effectively live where the visceral quality of the groove is key. This gig was great fun for both the musicians and the hardy audience at the Priory stage. Project X is a venture that Ceri Williams will almost certainly return to.


JOHN ETHERIDGE’S SWEET CHORUS

Effectively the Saturday headliner guitarist John Etheridge led his Sweet Chorus quartet in two shows at the Castle stage. It’s a group I’ve seen before and I only managed to catch the latter stages of their second performance.

Sweet Chorus represent an effective and convincing updating of the gypsy jazz tradition with Etheridge joined tonight by long term associate Chris Garrick on violin, Andy Crowdy on double bass and Jez Billings on rhythm guitar.

I managed to catch the last couple of tunes beginning with “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans” with solos from Etheridge, Garrick and Crowdy.

These three also featured on an encore of Charlie Christian’s “Seven Come Eleven” - “the first song to feature a guitar riff” posited Etheridge and indeed it’s interesting to speculate on a line running directly from Charlie Christian to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and beyond.  Here Etheridge switched to electric guitar and the highlight was his good natured, highly virtuosic duel with violinist Garrick, the two exchanging phrases at a frantic pace. Great stuff and it would have been nice to have heard some more of this. 

I consoled myself with the thought of how much I’d enjoyed the Project X set plus the fact that I’d had my fix of gypsy jazz the night before when I attended a rather splendid gig by rising star guitarist Remi Harris at Bodenham Village Hall in my native Herefordshire -and just for once I went as a"punter”.

So ended an excellent first day at Wall2Wall with some high quality music across a variety of jazz styles and beyond. More on Sunday. Watch this space.


COMMENTS:

From Ceri Williams via Facebook;

Hi Ian, thank you so much for the blinding review, I’m so so chuffed. And I respect what you write so it means even more. As an aside, we’ve known each other a good while and you’ve encapsulated a lot about my influences/activities in the piece, and I’m really grateful for you doing that, thank you.
ps Please tell Neil Yates Frozen Forest was a deserving cover.

 


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