Saturday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/09/2018.
Friday, September 07, 2018
Ian Mann on a day of superb jazz with concert performances from bands led by Daniel Newberry, Alison Rayner, Ben Holder, Rachel Sutton and Tony Kofi plus interval music from Dave Jones and friends.
Photograph of the Rachel Sutton Quartet by Pam Mann
SATURDAY AT WALL2WALL JAZZ FESTIVAL, THE MELVILLE CENTRE ABERGAVENNY, 01/09/2018.
The Saturday of the sixth Wall2Wall Jazz Festival was focussed at the Melville Centre in Abergavenny, the regular home of organisers Black Mountain Jazz (BMJ).
A full programme of music featured five ticketed events in the Melville’s theatre space with a further series of performances in the bar area. The latter featured a series of intimates duo sessions co-ordinated by pianist and composer Dave Jones, whose partners included vocalist Debs Hancock, bassist Ashley John Long, trumpeter Ceri Williams and alto saxophonist Glen Manby, all of them leading figures on the South Wales Jazz scene.
The concert performances presented a broad variety of music covering a wide range of jazz styles with artists travelling to Abergavenny from London and other parts of the UK. The concert programme featured musicians of all ages ranging from young up and comers to seasoned music industry professionals and featured the Daniel Newberry Quartet, Alison Rayner Quintet, Ben Holder Quartet, Rachel Sutton Quartet and Tony Kofi & The Organisation.
DANIEL NEWBERRY QUINTET, MELVILLE CENTRE THEATRE
The first band to take the stage, at a little after twelve noon, was a quintet led by the young tenor saxophonist Daniel Newberry. BMJ and Wall2Wall have always fostered strong links with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, where local lad Newberry is currently a student, and have always been highly supportive of young musicians.
I’d previously seen Newberry perform at the Brecon Jazz Festival in both 2017 and 2018 as part of different ensembles led by the guitarist Gerard Cousins. I’d been impressed by the young saxophonist’s contributions on both occasions and was therefore looking forward to the prospect of seeing him leading his own band.
The quintet that Newberry brought to Wall2Wall included some of South Wales’ top musicians, the majority of them also having close links with the RWCMD. Newberry was joined by Thom Voyce on trumpet, flugelhorn and vocals, Guy Shotton at the piano, Ashley John Long on double bass and James Sherwood at the drums. With the exception of Voice all the sidemen had visited BMJ before on regular club nights and for Shotton, an alumnus of Cardiff University, it was his second gig of the Festival after accompanying vocalist and saxophonist Becki Biggins at the Festival Dinner at the Angel Hotel the previous Thursday.
The quintet delivered a standards based programme and it was interesting to see Newberry playing straight ahead jazz as opposed to the jazz/folk/classical hybrid of the Cousins projects. The opener “There Will Never Be Another You” introduced the audience to the different instrumental voices of the band with solos coming from the leader on tenor, Voyce on trumpet, Shotton at the piano and Long on bass. All then traded fours with drummer Sherwood. I was also impressed by the way in which Newberry’s tenor and Voyce’s trumpet blended during the ensemble sections.
Newberry and Voice work together frequently, both are in the same academic year at RWCMD, and the pair can be heard on “Childhood”, the recent septet recording by the Brazilian born bassist and composer Matheus Prado, a fellow RWCMD student.
The rapport between the two was also apparent as Newberry’s tenor shadowed Voyce’s vocal on “But Not For Me” with instrumental solos coming from Newberry, Shotton and Long. To be perfectly honest I preferred Voyce’s trumpet playing to his singing, but the quintet’s use of vocals certainly brought a distinctive and unexpected additional element to the music.
Voyce also sang effectively on “Smoke Rings”, a song written by Gene Gifford and Ned Washington that was recorded by a wide variety of artists including the Mills Brothers and Sam Cooke. He also added some trumpet as he shared the instrumental solos with Shotton and the increasingly confident Newberry.
The saxophonist continued to hit his stride with a marathon tenor solo on Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Scrapple From The Apple”, a contrafact based on the chord sequence of “Honeysuckle Rose”. Powered by Sherwood’s Blakey-esque drumming this all instrumental performance also included solos from Voyce on trumpet and Shotton at the piano, plus some virtuoso bass pyrotechnics from the brilliant Long.
Newberry switched to curved soprano for a delightful ballad performance of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding” that brought out the full beauty of Ibrahim’s gorgeous melody. Newberry achieved an almost Garbarek-like purity of tone in this quartet performance as Voyce sat out. A word of praise, too, for the sensitivity of Sherwood’s brushed accompaniment.
Voyce then returned to sing “It Could Happen To You” with instrumental solos coming from Shotton on piano, Newberry on tenor and Long at the bass.
The final vocal number was a particularly effective reading of “No Moon At All” which featured Voyce’s voice at its most convincing. He also doubled on flugel horn, sharing the solos with Newberry on tenor, Long on bass and Shotton at the piano.
The quintet wrapped up their set with an arrangement by Newberry of “This I Dig Of You” from the classic Hank Mobley album “Soul Station”. The mood was celebratory as tenor and trumpet harmonised effectively with individual solos coming from tenor, trumpet, piano and double bass.
Despite my reservations about the vocalising this was a highly enjoyable performance in which everybody played well with Newberry visibly growing in fluency and confidence as the set progressed. Some of the leader’s solos were of the highest quality and at only twenty years of age Daniel Newberry is clearly a name to look out for in the future.
DAVE JONES / DEBS HANCOCK DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
The first of the day’s duo performances teamed pianist Dave Jones with singer Debs Hancock. Jones is a popular visitor to BMJ and in February 2017 played a headlining club date in the Theatre to launch his most recent quartet album “Key Notes”.
Port Talbot based Jones spent several years playing jazz in London and the South East before returning to his native South Wales. Also a prolific composer Jones has released a string of excellent recordings that have also included the trio album “Impetus” (2009) and the more expansive offerings “Journeys (2010) and “Resonance” (2012), both of which featured a core quartet including saxophonist Lee Goodall plus additional brass and strings. All three recordings highlighted just what an accomplished and ambitious composer Jones can be and all attracted an impressive amount of critical acclaim from the London based jazz media.
Debs Hancock began singing when she joined her local community choir in Usk. Realising that she had a genuine talent she has since developed a burgeoning career as jazz singer, performing with many of the leading instrumentalists on the South Wales jazz scene. I first heard Hancock sing in 2014 at the Brecon Jazz Fringe Festival and have seen her perform several times since, including a headlining set at BMJ’s old HQ, the Kings Arms, back in 2015. She’s also performed at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and the 606 Jazz Club in London as well as touring with her “Ella at 100” project in 2017.
Over the course of the past three years I’ve witnessed her grow as a singer in terms of both confidence and technical ability and have always enjoyed seeing her perform. Today she impressed in the intimate context of this pared down duo format as she and Jones interpreted a selection of well known jazz and Songbook standards. The set commenced with “Let’s Get Lost”, a song made famous by trumpeter / vocalist Chet Baker. We also heard Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?”, Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and a wonderfully sensitive rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain”, a song that Hancock described as “heart wrenching”.
We also heard “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, with Hancock ad libbing the lyrics to name check her musical partner. Next came “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” in an arrangement written for Hancock by Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin.
We also heard Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People” and a rollicking Nina Simone inspired version of “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free”. Hancock and Jones then rounded the set off with joyous renditions of “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You” and “Fly Me To The Moon”.
As ever this was a wholly enjoyable set and once again the audience remained quiet and attentive, which was a tribute to the quality of the performance.
Once the show was over BMJ stalwart Hancock, a great organiser, threw herself back into the logistics of running the Festival and ensuring that all ran smoothly.
ALISON RAYNER QUINTET (ARQ), MELVILLE THEATRE
Bassist and composer Alison Rayner is another musician that I’ve seen perform on multiple occasions, and is another artist who has never disappointed.
A professional musician of many years standing Rayner finally made her leadership début in 2014 with “August”, a live recording documented at the Vortex in London that placed the spotlight on Rayner’s original compositions. This was followed in 2016 by the studio set “A Magic Life”, which received financial support from Arts Council England.
The reaction to both albums has been overwhelmingly positive and Rayner has continued to blossom as a composer and bandleader. Both albums have featured her regular working quintet consisting of Deirdre Cartwright (guitar), Diane McLoughlin (tenor & soprano saxes), Steve Lodder (piano) and Buster Birch (drums, percussion). All were present today as part of a well balanced and highly cohesive unit capable of doing full justice to Rayner’s multi-faceted compositions.
I’ve seen the Rayner group perform in London, Birmingham, Brecon and Shrewsbury and the band is now a busy and highly popular live act with a third album in the offing. Today’s set featured pieces from the first two albums plus a number of new compositions scheduled for the new recording.
Rayner’s compositions are unfailingly melodic, frequently episodic, and are often inspired by people, places and events. Rayner is a musician who has travelled widely and likes to incorporate her experiences into her music. Her excellent band bring colour and vibrancy to her compositions and are given ample opportunity to express themselves as soloists within the framework of Rayner’s tightly arranged compositions. It’s a good balance of structure and freedom with Rayner’s writing displaying a Metheny-like melodic sense allied to a keen eye for detail. This is a group capable of sounding bigger than it actually is.
Today’s performance began with the title track from “A Magic Life” which commenced by contrasting the leader’s bowed bass and Lodder’s minor key chording with McLoughlin’s airy, dancing soprano sax melodies. These featured a subtle Celtic influence, a reflection of Rayner’s Scottish ancestry. The individual members of the group were then given the chance to stretch out with Lodder taking the first solo on piano followed by Cartwright on guitar, McLoughlin on soprano, and finally Birch with an effervescent drum and percussion feature. An excellent start that perfectly highlighted the many virtues of this superb quintet.
Next came the new tune “Colloquy”, inspired by the shifting nature of conversations. This began with a dialogue between Rayner on bass and a mallet wielding Birch, with the pair subsequently joined by piano and guitar. McLoughlin switched to tenor sax and her melodic phrases were echoed by Lodder at the piano in an exchange that seemed to embody the ‘conversational’ theme of the piece. Cartwright then undertook the first conventional solo, but also continued to exchange phrases with the other instruments. A change of pace came when Rayner and Birch set up a muscular, funky groove that fuelled powerful solos from McLoughlin on tenor and Lodder on piano, the latter gradually absorbed into the fabric of the tune. Overall the ebb and flow of the piece encapsulated its theme of conversation and communication.
“Half A World Away” was sourced from the quintet’s début album and featured McLoughlin on tenor with further solos coming from Cartwright and Lodder.
From the same album “Queer Bird”, with its boppish theme and Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk allusions, was the closest the quintet got to conventional bebop inspired jazz with Rayner’s rapid bass walk and Birch’s brisk drumming inspiring dazzling solos from Cartwright on guitar, McLoughlin on tenor and Lodder on piano. Birch himself was also thrust into the spotlight with a lively drum feature.
Rayner’s Scottish family ties were again acknowledged via the new composition “A Braw Boy”, a dedication to her young nephew. The piece was also inspired by the landscape of Northern Scotland and featured a folk influenced melody that prompted engaging solos from McLoughlin on soprano sax, Cartwright on guitar and Lodder at the piano.
From the quintet’s second album “The Trunk Call” has become something of an audience favourite with its playful arrangement reflecting its source of inspiration, a colourful Indian festival featuring drummers and elephants. Introduced by Birch at the drums the piece saw members of the group approximating the sound of Indian instruments with the drone of Rayner’s bowed bass allied to Cartwright’s sitar like guitar and McLoughlin’s shenai like soprano sax. Birch’s tabla added an extra element of authenticity.
Lodder and McLoughlin have both begun writing for the group with the pianist’s two part composition “The OK Chorale” was up next. Jokey title aside this was an impressive piece of writing, full of twists and turns and dynamic contrasts that inspired fluent, powerful solos from Cartwright on guitar and McLoughlin on tenor. Birch’s drum feature then formed the link into the second half of the piece, which featured Lodder’s classically inspired piano soloing and subsequent dialogue with Rayner.
The new tune “Croajingalong Bush Walk” was written after Rayner’s recent visit to Australia and closed the set here. The piece evoked a genuine Aboriginal feel courtesy of Birch’s mallet rumbles and Rayner’s hand held percussion allied to the ‘jews harp’ like sounds generated by Cartwright’s guitar. Solos came from McLoughlin on tenor, Rayner on pizzicato double bass and Lodder at the piano. It represented an evocative and highly effective way to round off an excellent group performance.
Once again ARQ had delivered with Rayner presenting the performance in a warm, gracious and informative manner, as always. The playing, both individually and collectively was superb throughout and although Rayner only undertook one genuine solo her bass playing was always at the heart of the music. But in many ways the quintet IS her instrument. Rayner’s late blooming into a composer of some stature is one of the most satisfying stories of British jazz in recent years.
DAVE JONES / ASHLEY JOHN LONG DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
Back in the bar area Dave Jones entered into his second extended musical conversation of the day, this time with bassist Ashley John Long.
Long is a member of Jones’ regular working quartet and the pair also released the piano / double bass duo album “Postscript” in 2016.
Long is a hugely talented and supremely versatile bassist and is a consistently creative and frequently astonishing soloist, both with and without the bow. He is also an accomplished classical double bassist with a particular affinity for baroque music. As a composer of contemporary classical music scores he has written for harpist Catrin Finch and for the Lunar Saxophone Quartet.. .And if all that’s not enough he’s also a highly talented vibraphonist who has recently begun to lead his own groups from the vibes.
Today’s set featured just keyboard and double bass but the closeness and familiarity of the duo enabled them to concentrate on original material rather than the standards repertoire. First we heard an early Jones composition, “Stimulus”, followed by his “Four On Three” which gave Long the opportunity to demonstrate his considerable skills with the bow.
Long’s own “Nearly Everything Happens To Me” was sourced from the “Postscript” album and was a delightfully melodic and lyrical ballad that transcended the humour of the title.
Jones’ own “Postscript” began life as an electronic piece and was also recorded on the trio album “Impetus”. Meanwhile Long’s “Zebedee” highlighted the composer’s astonishing virtuosity as a pizzicato double bass soloist, his playing exhibiting imagination, inventiveness and a dazzling dexterity.
The pair closed with the only standard of the set, Jerome Kern’s “Long Ago And Far Away”, a tune also documented on the “Postscript” recording.
Once again the audience were quiet and attentive, mesmerised by the beauty and intimacy of the performances and by Long’s incredible bass playing. Personally I found that the decision to focus on original material ensured that this was the most interesting, and consequently the most satisfying, of the four duo performances, although all of them were consistently absorbing and of a high standard. But in terms of sheer adventurousness this one gets the nod.
BEN HOLDER QUARTET, MELVILLE THEATRE
Based in Leicester Ben Holder is a twenty nine year old violinist, pianist, vocalist and all round entertainer. Classically trained Holder turned to jazz after hearing Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti and one suspects that the rigorous discipline of the classical world wouldn’t have suited him at all. Holder is a force of nature but a musician with technique to burn, a virtuoso violinist, an accomplished pianist and a more than competent vocalist. Even between numbers he exudes an irrepressible energy, rambling on about whatever takes his fancy and never taking himself too seriously.
I first heard of him when guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed a Holder show at the Progress Theatre in Reading, but even Trevor’s glowing account didn’t quite prepare me for the sheer effusiveness and relentless energy of Holder’s stage show. Sporting green hair dye (don’t ask!) the main man was like a fire cracker going off. Talk about “light the blue touch paper”.
Holder was accompanied by an admirably tight quartet featuring guitarist Jez Cook, bassist Paul Jefferies and drummer Malcolm Garrett, who all got to play the role of straight man to Holder’s court jester.
Things exploded into life with a frenetic “Lady Be Good” that saw Holder frantically sawing and soaring on the violin before handing over to Cook. As the guitarist completed his solo Holder moved to the piano where he swarmed all over the keyboard in a second display of breathless virtuosity. Jefferies’ bass feature allowed the leader to move back to violin and the piece concluded with a series of vigorous drum breaks from Garrett. It represented a blistering start to the set and ensured that the audience were on Holder’s side right from the off.
Holder demonstrated his vocal chops on “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, also doubling up and soloing on violin. Cook, who seemed to function as Holder’s musical right hand man, also impressed with a solo that favoured an orthodox jazz guitar sound.
Inspired by a Tom and Jerry cartoon Holder’s rendition “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” steered the music into crowd pleasing jump jive territory with Holder again singing and playing violin. Propelled by Garrett’s tribal style drumming the piece also featured solo features for all members of the band.
Moving back to the piano Holder also cited Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum as key influences. He also idolises Ray Charles and sang and played “Georgia On My Mind” very much in the Ray Charles style with Cook adding a slow burning, blues infused guitar solo.
Holder’s own song, “You”, was unashamedly romantic and featured the leader on violin and vocals together with a melodic bass solo from Jefferies. But Holder was soon upping the energy levels once more as his quote laden violin solo metamorphosed into a frenetic version of the Sonny Rollins jazz calypso “St. Thomas” featuring a guitar solo from Cook followed by a guitar and pizzicato violin set piece.
A more conventional gypsy jazz section followed with Cook switching to acoustic guitar for a Django Reinhardt segue that paired “Minor Swing” with “Nuages”. The latter saw Holder slowing down and fleetingly revealing a more subtle side to his playing, notably in the opening dialogue with Cook’s guitar.
A second segue of tunes saw Holder’s own “Sweet Potato”, a tune written in the Hot Club style, merged with the Reinhardt/Grappelli composition “Souvenir de Villingen”. Holder’s piece was predictably frenetic but he again showed an admirable sensitivity on “Souvenir…”, again combining effectively with Cook.
Holder’s influences are wide ranging and eclectic. To close he returned to the piano to sing a jazz arrangement of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”, initially accompanied by just Jefferies but later involving the rest of the band and with instrumental solos coming from Holder on piano, Cook on guitar and Jefferies at the bass.
A great crowd pleaser Holder was afforded the luxury of the first encore of the day, a brisk drive along “Route 66” featuring Holder on violin and vocals and Cook on guitar.
That Holder is a huge talent is undeniable, but for me his show was too frantic and ‘in your face’, and ultimately rather tiring. A little more subtlety and light and shade wouldn’t have gone amiss
and, like Nigel Jarrett reviewing the same show for Wales On Line, my favourite moment was the gypsy jazz section when Holder briefly allowed himself to take his foot off the throttle.
However I suspect that Nigel and I might be in a minority. The audience clearly loved Holder and for many his high energy and undeniably entertaining show probably represented the highlight of the day.
DAVE JONES / CERI WILLIAMS DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
Following Holder’s high octane pyrotechnics this low key standards set from Jones and trumpeter Ceri Williams came as pleasant light relief.
Torfaen based Williams is a versatile trumpeter capable of playing across a variety of jazz styles from trad to fusion. A frequent visitor to BMJ and Wall2Wall in a wide array of different musical contexts he last visited the club in March 2018 as part of the quintet Chop Idols, co-led by himself and trumpeter Gethin Liddington.
Williams can be a very powerful trumpeter but today he adapted himself to the intimacy of the room and the smallness of the location by playing with a Harmon mute almost throughout. Williams was calling the tunes in this standards based set and the material included such familiar items as “There Is No Greater Love”, “Days Of Wine And Roses”, “It Might As Well Be Spring” and, for the second time today, “Have You Met Miss Jones?”.
Williams switched to flugelhorn and Jones to a Rhodes sound on his Korg keyboard for Freddie Hubbard’s gorgeously melodic “Little Sunflower”, a piece that has become something of a modern day standard.
Williams then moved back to muted trumpet as the duo closed this pleasantly laid back and amiable set with Errol Garner’s “Misty” and Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. Again it was pleasing to see these two old friends of BMJ being awarded such a warm attentive reception.
RACHEL SUTTON QUARTET, MELVILLE THEATRE
I have to admit to not having heard of vocalist and songwriter Rachel Sutton prior to the Festival and bearing in mind my general antipathy towards singers I wasn’t really expecting too much from this gig. However I found myself pleasantly surprised as Sutton and her stellar quartet turned in what was arguably the best performance of the day.
I suppose a glance at the line up should have raised my expectations with Sutton joined by Roland Perrin on piano, Curtis Ruiz on electric bass and the great Paul Robinson at the drums. After beginning his career with the much loved and missed Turning Point (led by the late bassist Jeff Clyne) Robinson spent twenty years as the drummer of choice for Nina Simone, impressive credentials indeed. He’s since visited Wall2Wall as part of groups led by blues/jazz vocalist Zoe Schwartz.
Sutton trained as an actress at Glamorgan University and the RWCMD and thus has local connections despite being brought up in Kent and now living in London. Performances in musical theatre led her to singing full time and she is a regular performer at London’s 606 Jazz Club, an institution that also has close links with BMJ.
From the outset it was clear that here was a very classy vocalist accompanied by an equally classy band. Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things” began with Ruiz setting up a groove on his five string electric bass in tandem with Robinson’s brushed drums. Sutton’s vocals combined jazz phrasing with an agreeably bluesy edge and were perfectly enunciated, no doubt a legacy of her theatre training. She avoided all the usual jazz vocal clichés, no scatting at all throughout the set, and I was immediately impressed.
Written during the Great Depression of the 1930s and based upon a Jewish lullaby “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?” was delivered with great conviction with the lyrics still possessing a frightening contemporary relevance in 21st century America and Britain.
From an even earlier vintage came “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, written in 1921 and delivered by Sutton in sassy, salty, feisty fashion. An up-tempo arrangement combined musical humour with some fine playing with pianist Perrin continuing to impress with one of many fine solos throughout the set.
“But Not For Me” was notable both for Sutton’s singing and for Ruiz’s liquidly melodic electric bass solo, reminiscent at times of the great Steve Swallow.
Robinson’s Latin drum and percussion grooves enlivened “I Don’t Stand The Ghost Of A Chance With You” with Perrin again sparkling at the piano.
Sutton presented the show with charm and a ready, sometimes salty, wit and now introduced one of her own songs, a well crafted piece describing the end of a love affair between an older woman and a younger man. A stop-start arrangement combined tango inflections with an orthodox jazz swing and featured Perrin as an instrumental soloist. Sutton didn’t announce the title but I’d surmise that it was “I Watch You Walk Away”, a phrase that repeatedly cropped up in the lyrics.
Emboldened by the good reception that this received she then sang another original song, a witty and sassy declaration of female self confidence “telling a guy what he is missing”. Ruiz featured again here with a virtuoso, Jaco Pastorius style electric bass solo.
“The Man I Love” was delivered with an engaging blues swagger and featured Perrin as the instrumental soloist.
A Latin-esque “Love For Sale” featured Cuban style piano from Perrin, a musician with an extensive knowledge of world music genres, a further electric bass solo from Ruiz and a brilliant drum feature from Robinson that combined deft brushwork with dazzling bare handed drumming.
Perrin and Robinson sat out as Sutton and Ruiz delivered a stunning version of the old blues classic “Trouble In Mind” with the vocalist singing with great power and authority.
Next up was another of Sutton’s original “end of relationship” songs, this one with the real feel of an established jazz standard.
“Evil Girl” combined a soulful, bluesy rendition of a salacious lyric with a genuinely funky groove. This contrasted effectively with a beautiful version of “Moonlight Serenade”, a song best known for the Glenn Miller big band version but here delivered as a sensitive and lyrical jazz ballad with Robinson deploying brushes and Ruiz contributing a liquidly melodic electric bass solo.
A playful “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” completed an excellent set with instrumental solos coming from Perrin and Ruiz.
The well deserved encore saw Sutton delivering “W-O-M-A-N” as a defiantly gutsy blues and even persuading some of the men in the audience to sing along with the chorus as Perrin and Ruiz again provided the instrumental solos.
With top quality singing, consistently inventive soloing and convincing original song writing all forming part of an impressive all round package there was good reason for this to be considered the ‘gig of the day’, especially as its excellence was so unexpected, at least by me. On the evidence of this performance it’s high time that Rachel Sutton got around to recording a full length album. Hers is a talent that should be widely heard.
DAVE JONES / GLEN MANBY DUO, MELVILLE CENTRE BAR
The last duo set of the day teamed Jones with Cardiff based alto sax specialist Glen Manby. A popular figure on the South Wales jazz scene Manby has performed regularly at Brecon Jazz Festival and also played a BMJ club set in the Melville’s main house in February 2016. In 2017 he released his début album “Homecoming” which featured a stellar band of London based musicians including Steve Waterman (trumpet), Leon Greening (piano), Adam King (double bass) and Matt Home (drums).
Like Ceri Williams previously Manby was calling the tunes and the set began with “Bluesette”, written by the late jazz harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans.
“All The Things You Are” represented predictable enough standards fare, but an excellent version of Chick Corea’s “Windows” came as a pleasant surprise.
We also heard a snippet of Jobim, which went announced, and another jazz standard, “If I Should Lose You”.
The duo then became a trio with the addition of Daniel Newberry, who had been around all day enjoying, and no doubt studying, the other performances. Newberry added his tenor to a good natured version of “There Will Never Be Another You” with solos from all three protagonists.
This series of duo performances was a welcome addition to the Festival and each was well supported with a listening audience according a commendable respect to the musicians, this a tribute to the quality of the playing of Jones and his various partners.
TONY KOFI & THE ORGANISATION, MELVILLE CENTRE THEATRE
The final gig of the Festival Saturday represented the official album launch of “Point Blank”, the newly released recording by saxophonist Tony Kofi and the trio The Organisation, led by guitarist Simon Fernsby. As the band name might suggest the group also includes Pete Whittaker, one of the UK’s leading organists, together with Peter Cater, best known as the leader of his own big band, at the drums.
“Point Blank” offers a twist on the usual organ combo as Kofi is featured exclusively on baritone sax. The band played the majority of the pieces from the new album over the course of a grooving, hard driving set that off to a rousing start with the album opener, Duke Pearson’s “Minor League”. Powered by Cater’s dynamic drumming Kofi took the first solo, his baritone rasping powerfully but with Kofi also displaying an enormous degree of fluency and agility on the big horn. Fernsby followed on guitar, impressing with his nimble fretboard work. Whittaker followed on a two manual Crumar electric organ, generating an authentic gospel sound.
Introduced by Cater at the drums Pepper Adams’ “Bossallegro” kept the pot bubbling with solos from Kofi, Fernsby and Whittaker plus an explosive closing drum feature from Cater.
The run through the new album continued with Henry Mancini’s “Theme From Mr. Lucky” with Kofi playing the head before Whittaker waded in with the first solo followed by Kofi and Fernsby, the saxophonist then returning for a second bite at the cherry.
McCoy Tyner’s “Search For Peace” was rather less ‘full on’ than what had gone before and was a gospel flavoured ballad that saw Cater deploying brushes for the first time and which acted as a feature for the excellent Whittaker.
“Cisco”, written by the American guitarist Pat Martino raised the energy levels once more and was a hectic, hard grooving piece that had something of a ‘cop show theme’ feel about it. Here Kofi’s baritone assumed the lead once more as he shared the solos with Whittaker’s keys and Fernsby’s FX laden guitar.
Horace Silver’s “Summer In Central Park” was uncharacteristically laid back for a Silver composition and included solos from Kofi, Fernsby and Whittaker.
Wes Montgomery’s “Full House” then restored the energy levels with Whittaker leading off the solos followed by Fernsby and Kofi.
“Moontrane” was written by the trumpeter Woody Shaw specifically for John Coltrane and there was something of the spirit of the great man about Kofi’s baritone playing here. With Cater’s propulsive drumming keeping the band moving we also enjoyed fiery solos from Fernsby and Whittaker, with the organist producing what was arguably his best playing of the night.
Finally we heard the band departing from the album repertoire to deliver a funky, organ led, soul jazz version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Jo”. Whittaker’s organ playing was sometimes reminiscent of Booker T. Jones as he shared the solos with Kofi and Fernsby, the latter again making effective use of his FX pedals.
This was a high powered, energetic and entertaining set that was watched by the largest single audience of the day at a close to capacity Melville. Kofi exhibited an astonishing facility, not to mention amazing stamina, on the baritone sax as he took the instrument to places it probably wasn’t meant to go to. He was well supported by an excellent band and for many listeners this concert represented the ‘gig of the day’.
Nobody could argue that Kofi and his colleagues hadn’t delivered and this was an immensely enjoyable set of music that in live performance transcended any of the numerous ‘generic’ criticisms that have been levelled at the album.
Thus ended a day of superb music at the Melville with the gigs by Rayner, Sutton and Kofi representing my personal highlights. Ben Holder delighted the crowd despite my personal reservations and young Dan Newberry acquitted himself well and exhibited true potential. The four ‘double handers’ featuring Dave Jones all commanded the listener’s attention and produced some excellent music, with his duet with long standing colleague Ashley John Long just shading the honours here. Pretty much a terrific day all round.
JAZZ MANN NEWS
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Jez Matthews of Jazz at The Lescar has forwarded details of a typically exciting and varied programme for February, March, April and early May 2020. Fully detailed listings attached.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
American pianist & composer Lynne Arriale will lead her trio on a series of live dates in the US & Europe during 2020 / 21. The schedule includes two nights at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London.
Friday, February 14, 2020
German vocalist Max Raabe and the twelve piece Palast Orchester will perform a short series of UK shows in March 2020. The ensemble specialises in the popular music of the 1920s and 1930s.
JAZZ GIGS & EVENTS
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Wednesday, February 19, 2020