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Sunday at Brecon Jazz Festival, 12/08/2018.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Sunday at Brecon Jazz Festival, 12/08/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys an incredible day of music featuring performances from Gerard Cousins, Martha Skilton, Elaine Delmar, Adam Glasser, Josephine Davies, Cloudmakers Trio and Rod Paton's Czech Connection.

Photograph of Adam Glasser by Bob Meyrick


SUNDAY AT BRECON JAZZ FESTIVAL,
12/08/2018

The final day of the Festival presented six ticketed concerts in addition to numerous free and street performances. The concert programme began at twelve noon with a double bill at The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon Jazz Club’s regular HQ, consisting of;

GERARD COUSINS PROJECT / MARTHA SKILTON QUINTET

Guitarist Gerard Cousins was a popular visitor to the Festival in 2017 when he led a sextet at the Guildhall which undertook an intriguing re-imagining of the classic 1969 Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”.

Locally born Cousins is a highly accomplished classical guitarist who studied the instrument at the University of Leeds and at the Enschede Conservatorium in the Netherlands. Since 2005 he has released four albums of solo guitar music on his own record label. As well as exploring the conventional classical and Spanish repertoires he has also investigated the folk music of his native Wales, most notably on the album “Hiraeth” released in 2010.

It was to the Welsh folk repertoire that he turned to today in the company of a scaled down Project featuring tenor saxophonist Dan Newberry and pianist Andy Nowak, both of whom had been members of last year’s larger ensemble.

The intimate setting of The Muse proved to be ideal for Cousins’ primarily acoustic music, albeit with Nowak deploying, by necessity, an electric keyboard. The gig was notable for being held on young saxophonist Newberry’s 20th birthday.

The idea of marrying jazz with Welsh folk music is not entirely new and has recently been successfully explored by the group Burum, led by trumpeter Tomos Williams and previous visitors to Brecon Jazz Festival themselves.

Whereas Burum prefer to place the folk melodies into a modal jazz context the Cousins trio tended to adopt a more chamber jazz approach, adapting the source material rather less radically but still giving it a distinctive jazz flavour.

The trio commenced with an adaptation of the traditional tune “Lisa Lan”, dubbed by Cousins “Lisa Lan Goes East” as the trio brought a touch of the Middle East to the music via Newberry’s tenor and Cousins’ nylon strung acoustic guitar. Nowak punctuated the piece with a passage of solo piano and also engaged in thoughtful dialogue with Cousins’ guitar.

The well known hymn tune “Gwahoddiad” is a piece that Cousins has played as a solo guitarist for years. It lost none of its charm here in a trio arrangement that began with a passage of unaccompanied guitar but also included a series of melodic exchanges between Newberry and Nowak. The saxophonist’s subsequent solo then saw him subtly stretching the fabric of the familiar melody.

“Ar Lan y Mor” (or “Down By The Sea”) also commenced with a passage of solo guitar that exhibited both classical and folk influences and demonstrated Cousins’ phenomenal technique with some almost prehensile fingering. Nowak’s keyboard subsequently took over the melody as the rushes of breath through Newberry’s tenor sometimes seemed to replicate the sound of surf.

A sparse arrangement of a 7th century Welsh lullaby included an introductory dialogue between guitar and piano in which the notes almost seemed to hang in the air. As the tune developed we enjoyed a tenor solo from the increasingly assured Newberry before the piece concluded with a passage of unaccompanied piano.

An all too short set concluded with “The Dove”, a beautifully melodic piece that recalled some of Jan Garbarek’s Nordic folk influenced recordings. There was something of the Norwegian’s sound in Newberry’s plaintive tenor in a piece that also included unaccompanied passages of guitar and piano.

Although more modest in scope than last year’s “Silent Way” explorations this subtle and thoughtful set was very well received by an attentive crowd at The Muse. It’s very possible that the locally based Cousins may well return again next year with a fresh Project to explore.

Abergavenny based saxophonist Martha Skilton has always been a popular visitor to Brecon Jazz, whether leading her own groups or as a sidewoman, her most recent visit being with pianist and composer Simon Deeley’s Blue Haze Quartet.

For this Festival performance Skilton was the nominal leader of a one off quintet featuring drummer Romarna Campbell plus three students from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. Tenor saxophonist Josh Heaton, keyboard layer Frazer McIntosh and guitarist Kumar Chopra had all visited Brecon Jazz Club just a month previously as part of an RWCMD showcase featuring three different bands, including Heaton’s own Mouth Of Words.

The RWCMD showcase had focussed on original material but today we heard a standards based set from this ad hoc up beginning with “Like Someone In Love”. A lively take on the tune helped to introduce the individual voices of the band with Heaton taking the first solo followed by Skilton, Chopra and McIntosh and with Campbell trading fours with the other musicians.

Few of the tunes were formally announced so I’m not going to bother with titles. Nonetheless there was much to enjoy with plenty of excellent solos peppering the set. I also enjoyed the harmonising and interplay between the two tenors.

Most pieces included features for all the players with Chopra impressing with the variety of his playing. One solo was powerful, dramatic and strongly rock influenced, his next, on the following number, cool and elegant. A quiet presence who remained seated while he played, he frequently threatened to steal the show.

We had been warned that this double bill might overrun and clash with the Elaine Delmar concert scheduled at 2.00 pm in the Guildhall. So it proved, and I was somewhat reluctant to drag myself away from this enjoyable and good natured performance but I thought I hadn’t better be late for the show in the more formal setting of the Guildhall – particularly for two gigs in succession!

ELAINE DELMAR QUINTET, GUILDHALL THEATRE

There was another full house at the Guildhall Theatre for this prestige gig featuring the veteran singer and actress Elaine Delmar.

The vastly experienced Delmar is still a class act and was accompanied by a suitably stellar band including guitarist Jim Mullen, pianist Barry Green, double bassist Simon Thorpe and drummer Bobby Worth.

During the course of an entertaining seventy five minute set Delmar and her illustrious band performed a programme packed with familiar songs, the majority of them bona fide jazz standards from the “Great American Songbook” kicking off with a suitably sprightly “Spring Fever” with Green the featured instrumental soloist.

Next came George Gershwin’s “Stairway To Paradise” with Delmar’s vocals warm and conversational at first, but later bright and sassy following an injection of pace from long time collaborator Worth at the kit.

There was more Gershwin to follow with “Embraceable You”, introduced by a voice and piano duet between Delmar and Green. The pianist has a particular affinity for accompanying singers, among them more contemporary vocalists such as Brigitte Beraha. This was an intimate performance that featured Worth on brushes and included a suitably sensitive and classy solo from Mullen on guitar.

Delmar is famous for her role in the 70s West End stage show “Bubbling Brown Sugar” and still sings songs from that production, including tonight a seductive version of “Honeysuckle Rose”, initially accompanied only by the sound of Thorpe’s bass and with Mullen using the body of his guitar as percussion. Subsequently more conventional solos followed from Green and Mullen.

Introducing the Paul Williams song “L Can’t Last A Day Without You” Delmar described the piece as “modern Great American Songbook standard”. Her tasteful interpretation included instrumental solos from Mullen and Green.

Similar claims could be made for “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, written by the folk singer Ewan McColl but best known as a hit for soul star Roberta Flack and here given an emotive reading by Delmar, ably supported by the faithful Green at the piano.

The only piece that I didn’t recognise followed, a swinging piece of ‘vocalese’ style jazz that incorporated dazzling solos from Mullen and Green.

Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” featured a heartfelt vocal from Delmar plus sensitive and lyrical piano from Green.
Meanwhile a swinging and playful rendition of the same composer’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” included sparkling solos from Mullen and Green.

Mullen and his ‘mutant thumb’ also came to the fore as he joined Delmar for an intimate duo performance of “If You Loved Me”, a song most closely associated with Edith Piaf.

“No More Blues” saw the rest of the band returning to the fray on the first of two pieces honouring the songwriting genius of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the instrumental honours here shared between Green, Mullen and Thorpe.

“Hymn For Jobim”, composed by the British saxophonist and songwriter Duncan Lamont, then paid tribute to the great man and was a gentle bossa featuring Delmar’s warm, affectionate vocal and Mullen’s ever tasteful guitar soloing.

A vivacious reading of “It’s Alright With Me” then featured a flirtatious vocal from Delmar and a sparkling solo from pianist Green.

In a neat twist the usually perky “Tea For Two”, from the musical “No No Nanette”, was delivered as a tender ballad in an innovative slowed down arrangement.

A similarly imaginative interpretation characterised “Summertime”, again treated to a slowed down arrangement with Delmar’s controlled vocal accompanied only by the rounded tones of Thorpe’s double bass.

The show ended with a swinging quintet version of Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You” introduced by a duo passage featuring voice and piano and greatly enlivened by the boppish, quote laden guitar solo from Mullen and subsequent keyboard excursion from Green.

At the age of 78 Delmar is still in fine voice and still has the ability to work a crowd – the Brecon audience were practically eating out of her hand. Of course the singer was helped enormously by the tasteful, swinging backing of a very classy band with the soloing of both Mullen and Green a consistent source of delight.

In truth it was all a little too slick and ‘show-bizzy’ for my own personal tastes but there was no denying that it was a supremely accomplished performance from a highly capable ensemble. The vast majority of the audience clearly loved every minute of it and the concert represented yet another triumph for the Festival organisers.


ADAM GLASSER BAND – TOOTS THIELEMANS & BEYOND
WELLINGTON SUITE, WELLINGTON HOTEL

Over at the Wellington pianist and harmonica player Adam Glasser was leading his second gig of the weekend. Today’s performance followed the previous evening’s appearance at the Guildhall where Glasser led a six piece band paying tribute to the late South African trumpeter and vocalist Hugh Masekela.

Today Glasser paid homage to another of his musical heroes, Toots Thielemans (1922-2016), the Belgian born multi-instrumentalist (he was also a skilled guitarist) who became the pre-eminent harmonica player in jazz and worked with many of the greats in both America and Europe.

For today’s show Glasser appeared with a four piece band, the nucleus of the previous evening’s sextet. The quartet featured three highly talented young musicians, Rob Luft on guitar, Daisy George on double bass and Corrie Dick at the drums with Glasser again playing both piano and harmonica.

Introducing the performance Festival organiser Lynne Gornall dedicated it to the memory of Rhodri Morgan, former First Minister of Wales and a great supporter of Brecon Jazz Festiva, saying;
“Rhodri was a great jazz supporter; he and his wife Julie attended this Festival loyally and Rhodri always spoke up for Brecon Jazz. As Julie said, they ‘barely missed’ a single year - and when the Festival ran into difficulties, Rhodri Morgan, then Wales’ Assembly leader and First Minister, reached out and gave it life-saving support. It reminds us that we all need to be pro-active in sustaining Brecon Jazz Festival, to keep it moving forward. It is now in its 35th year! At this special event, and with a wonderful lineup led by Adam Glasser, we appropriately remember and thank Rhodri Morgan - through music with a joyous concert and truly positive vibe”.

The band kicked off with the Ray Bryant tune “Cubano Chant” which saw Glasser doubling on piano and harmonica during the course of the piece and delivering the first solo of the set on the chromatic harmonica, the same type of instrument as played by Stevie Wonder and one with the flexibility of a more conventional jazz horn such as saxophone or trumpet. Luft also impressed with the first of many excellent guitar solos while Dick enjoyed himself with a closing drum feature.

Thielemans was arguably the first musician to play bebop on the harmonica and his repertoire included Charlie Parker’s “Anthology” which the quartet tackled here with Glasser taking the first solo on harmonica followed by Luft on guitar and George on double bass.

There was something of a follow on from the previous evening as Glasser acknowledged his South African roots with a rendition of the Township Jazz tune “Zandili” which saw Luft making use of a guitar slide as he shared the solos with the leader’s harmonica.

One of Thielemans’ most celebrated album recordings was 1973’s “Affinity”, a quintet date that he co-led with the great American pianist and composer Bill Evans. From that album came “Sno’ Peas”, written by Phil Markowitz, a ballad that Glasser described as “difficult”. Here Luft’s guitar doubled Glasser’s harmonica melody line,  accompanied by George’s bass and Dick’s brushed drums. When the solos came Glasser was featured on piano as he also honoured Evans, his two excursions on the instrument punctuated by a guitar solo from the consistently excellent Luft.

A brief “My Romance” was performed as a duet by Glasser and Luft with the leader using a smaller jazz, or chromatic, harmonica, the Hohner Melody Star.

Jobim’s “No More Blues”, sung earlier in the day by Elaine Delmar, appeared in a very different guise here.  In 1969 Thielemans recorded an album with the Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina which provided the inspiration for today’s performance. Here the buoyant Brazilian rhythms generated by George and Dick helped to encourage strong solos from Luft on guitar and Glasser, back on the larger chromatic harmonica.

Glasser’s piano playing formed the basis for a storming performance of Benny Golson’s enduring “Killer Joe”, another tune historically played by Thielemans. In honour of this Glasser switched to harmonica for his solo, followed first by Luft and then by an engaging dialogue between George and Dick. The audience absolutely loved this well established jazz favourite.

Glasser is a cycling enthusiast and dedicated the next piece, an original, to Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, a move guaranteed to go down well with the patriotic Welsh crowd. The tune provided a vehicle for excellent solos from Luft on guitar and Dick with a skilfully constructed drum feature as the composer took something of a back seat, his harmonica doubling Luft’s guitar melody lines.

Prior to the final number Festival organiser Roger Cannon paid tribute to Glasser and the hard work that the latter had put into the Festival as the leader of two different groups. Glasser then took us back to South Africa as the performance ended with the joyous sounds of the townships and final solos from Glasser and Luft.

I have to admit that I’ve never been a great fan of the jazz harmonica, and even Glasser himself admitted that “too much harmonica can be boring”, hence his doubling up on piano. However to these ears Glasser got the balance absolutely right, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance and in the less crowded setting of the quartet I was able to appreciate the quality of Glasser’s playing of the chromatic harmonica even more than I done had the previous evening.

The pared down format also gave guitarist Luft greater scope to impress himself and his wildly inventive and technically brilliant solos were frequently stunning. Glasser himself had no product for the merchandise table but was happy for Luft and Dick to sell copies of their solo albums. Luft, in particular, made a lot of new friends at the Festival and business for his excellent début album “Riser” was brisk, in jazz terms at least.

I was highly impressed by Glasser and his band and this set proved to be an unexpected Festival highlight.

JOSEPHINE DAVIES TRIO - SATORI, ST. MARY’S CHURCH

Over at the St. Mary’s Stage tenor saxophonist Josephine Davies, who had appeared the previous evening as part of Glasser’s ‘Masekela’ sextet was leading her own trio in a performance of material sourced from her 2017 album “Satori” and its soon to be issued follow up “In The Corners Of Clouds”.

Davies has been a prolific presence on the London jazz scene for a number of years, leading her own groups as well as being an in demand sidewoman in other ensembles, both large and small.

Hitherto she has always played in fairly straight-ahead jazz contexts but “Satori”, released on the Whirlwind Recordings label represented something of a departure. The deliberately chordless line up featured long term associate Dave Whitford on double bass plus Paul Clarvis on drums and percussion. With its avant garde leanings the album represented Davies’ most adventurous recording to date, while still retaining a strong sense of melody and accessibility. It was widely praised by the critics and well received by the British jazz public as a whole. My review of the Satori album can be read here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/satori/

Since the release of the début Davies has retained Satori as a band name but re-modelled the trio with James Maddren replacing Clarvis and making his recorded début with the band on the forthcoming album.

Introducing the trio Roger Cannon noted the absence of a guitar, keyboard or other harmony instrument. “Don’t Need It” replied Davies and during the course of a totally enjoyable and absorbing set she and her colleagues gave a brilliant demonstration of exactly why this was so.

Proof was immediately offered with the opening “Wada Sabi” as Davies’ swirling, seductive tenor melodies were complemented by Maddren’s brilliantly imaginative polyrhythmic drumming and the immaculate time keeping of Whitford’s grounding bass

From the Satori album “The Yips” featured darting, mercurial sax melodies and crisply energetic brushed drums while also freeing up Whitford to take his first solo of the evening. Satori’s music is inspired by the saxophone trios of such American giants as Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and, more recently, Chris Potter, but Davies’ melodic, understated approach to the format results in a distinctly British music. At times I also heard the influences of fellow Brits such as Julian Arguelles or even the group Polar Bear.

Satori is a very democratic unit with plenty of space being given over to improvisation. Davies’ themes are simple, but melodic and memorable, and give the individuals ample scope to be able to express themselves. It’s very much a collective endeavour, a conversation of equals with individual solos not being signposted.

From the forthcoming album “Cry” was Davies’ direct homage to John Coltrane, the title reflected in the sound of her instrument and the writing drawing inspiration from the Coltrane classic “Alabama”.

The Joe Henderson trio album “The State Of The Tenor”, recorded live at the famous New York City jazz club the Village Vanguard in 1985 remains another touchstone for Davies. The recording includes a version of the Thelonious Monk composition “Ask Me Now” which was interpreted here by Davies and her trio, introduced here by the leader on unaccompanied tenor before gaining a hard driving momentum with further features for Davies and Maddren.

From the forthcoming album the Davies composition “The Intrepid Shoes” was a paean to the pleasures of walking, an apt choice here in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons and with the National Park Authority generously contributing financial support to the Festival, notably with their sponsorship of the two Brecon Jazz Futures concerts the previous day.

Davies described her composition “Paradoxy” as “doctored Rollins” and the piece represents a response to the famous Rollins tune “Doxy”. Despite the obviousness of its lineage this was a hugely enjoyable performance with Davies stating the theme on tenor and sharing individual features with Whitford and Maddren.

The title track from the trio’s forthcoming studio album featured one of Davies’ strongest melodic themes, helping to give the piece an anthemic like quality and a Garbarek-like accessibility. The piece was also notable for the delightful interplay between Whitford and Maddren, particularly the latter’s exquisite cymbal touch.

“The Dancing Saint” represented Davies’ personal dedication to Coltrane and featured some of her most heartfelt and powerful playing. The clarion call of her tenor on the intro was matched by Maddren’s dramatic mallet work prior to more conventional jazz solos from all three musicians.

The trio returned to the “State Of The Tenor” album for a version of Henderson’s own “Isotope”, another piece that has become something of a modern day standard. Davies’ opening theme statement and subsequent solo was followed by another absorbing series of bass and drum exchanges from Whitford and Maddren.

The closing “Scattered” was an animated free jazz excursion and the trio were rewarded for their efforts with a well deserved encore. This saw a final dip into the Henderson “State Of The Tenor” repertoire with “Y Ya la Quiero” as Whitford’s bass motif and Maddren’s brushed drum grooves underpinned the buzzy sound of Davies’ tenor.

I was hugely impressed by this performance from Davies and the trio. The exposed setting of the saxophone trio is difficult to work in convincingly but this highly interactive trio has it off to a fine art. Striking a good balance between composition and improvisation the Davies trio is imaginative and adventurous while remaining eminently accessible, as today’s audience reaction showed.

Maddren, one of the most in demand drummers on the UK jazz scene, seems an ideal fit for this group. His adaptability, flawless technique and quick reactions are ideal for this kind of music and he has already established a remarkable rapport with Davies and Whitford. The imminent release of the new album “In The Corners Of Clouds” will be keenly anticipated.


JIM HART’S CLOUDMAKERS TRIO, GUILDHALL THEATRE

From one ‘state of the art’ contemporary three piece to another. Cloudmakers Trio, led by vibraphonist and composer Jim Hart are also Satori’s label mates, having recorded three albums for the Whirlwind label, owned by Cloudmakers bassist Michael Janisch. The Cloudmakers line up is completed by drummer and percussionist Dave Smith although the group is sometimes expanded to a quintet with the addition of alto saxophonist Antonin-Tri Hoang and guitarist Hannes Riepler, these two also appearing on the recent release “Traveling Pulse”, credited to Cloudmakers Five.

Cloudmakers have recorded two previous albums “Abstract Forces” (2014) and “Live At The Pizza Express” (2012) the latter featuring the core trio in the company of American guest trumpeter Ralph Alessi.

In 2017 I saw the Cloudmakers Five perform at Dempsey’s in Cardiff and was highly impressed but today was the first time I had seen Hart, Janisch and Smith play as the core trio, despite having seen the individual musicians perform in a variety of contexts over the years.

The Cloudmakers often like to perform with guest musicians but today’s performance revealed just how brilliant the core trio actually is. Despite the superficially pared down setting of just vibes, double bass and drums there is so much going on in the Cloudmakers’ music that its impossible to take your eyes, or ears, off them. This is complex, consistently interesting music brilliantly played by three virtuosos. The brilliant Hart is also an accomplished drummer and pianist, Smith’s percussive skills have led to a lucrative gig with none other than ex Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, but he still comes back to play this challenging music in the company of like minded and long standing colleagues.

Of the Cloudmakers’ recorded input today’s show was closest in feel to “Abstract Forces”, the sole trio only recording, but the repertoire also included material from the more recent “Traveling Pulse” album.

The trio opened with “Snaggletooth” from the “Abstract Forces” album’ immediately setting their stall out with some quite brilliant playing. Janisch’s bass pulse set the ball rolling, the busy Smith quickly joining the fray to give the music an unstoppable rhythmic drive that framed a virtuoso four mallet solo from Hart that also saw him stooping to purse his mouth over the bars to create a kind of wah wah effect. The overall power and physicality of his approach was reminiscent of that of Chicago based vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz. Both men can really hammer the hell out of the bars when they want to. There was nothing ‘twinkling’ or ‘ethereal’ about this. Hart’s robust approach to the vibes was matched by Smith’s power and precision at the drums and Janisch’s muscular, athletic presence at the bass.

But Cloudmakers aren’t just about high octane physicality and virtuosity. “Snaggletooth” was teamed in fifteen minute segue with the more impressionistic “Ramprasad”, sourced from the same album which featured the other worldly sounds of arco bass and bowed vibes, Hart’s bows seemingly fashioned out of old coat hangers. Other examples of extended techniques saw Hart placing chains across the bars and sliding them back and forth in a manner that recalled prepared piano techniques. Taken as a whole this was jaw dropping stuff, the two pieces inspired by “dentists” and “elephants” respectively.

Following this dazzling ‘state of the art’ introduction Cloudmakers now chose to emphasise their jazz roots with a performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy”, introduced by the sound of unaccompanied vibes as Hart delivered a veritable peal of notes. Janisch then set up a muscular groove at the bass, accompanied by Smith’s skittering drum patterns. A passage of characteristically scintillating group interplay then led to an extended drum feature from the ebullient and brilliant Smith.

The trio returned to the “Abstract Forces” album for “Early Hours” ushered in by the unaccompanied bass of Janisch, this subsequently joined by Smith’s brushes and Hart’s vibes. The leader’s approach on this innately tuneful piece was more Gary Burton than Jason Adasiewicz and the warmth of his playing was matched by the melodic quality of Janisch’s subsequent bass feature.

From the “Traveling Pulse” album “The Exchange” has its origins in a poem written by Hart’s French wife about a chance encounter on the London Underground. Here the trio remained in comparatively impressionistic mood with Hart soling above the percolating rhythms of his colleagues in a style that was sometimes reminiscent of John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet.

Hart now lives in Alsace and from the same album “Golden” was written as a lullaby for his young son, Cosmo. This was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied vibes with Hart making effective use of ringing overtones. Bass and brushed drums were later added to the equation but this was a piece that remained sparse and simple – at least by Cloudmakers standards.

Hart praised the improvisational skills of his colleagues before announcing the closing segue of “Post Stone” and “Angular Momentum”, two more tunes from the “Abstract Forces” album. Smith’s drums introduced the proceedings, joined in dialogue with Hart’s vibes before the music really built up a head of steam with the addition of Janisch’s pumping bass. Smith’s drums clattered busily and Hart’s mallets fairly flew across the bars. Janisch subsequently enjoyed a virtuoso pizzicato double bass solo, throwing down the gauntlet to Hart who dazzled for a final time with another brilliant vibes solo.

This was a thrilling display from three absolute masters of their respective instruments. Fiercely interactive the three members of Cloudmakers were thinking on their feet throughout the performance and the standard of playing on this often frighteningly complex material was frequently stunning. Close your eyes and you could have been in New York rather than Brecon.

Despite the brilliance of the performance this was the lowest attendance of the day. It’s possible that some listeners may have been frightened off by the sheer complexity of the Cloudmakers’ music.
Theirs is a music that makes considerable demands upon the listener’s attention, but those demands are more than satisfied by the sheer energy and brilliance of the playing. Many in a small but highly attentive and enthusiastic audience rated this as the best gig of the entire Festival weekend, and it would be hard to disagree with them.


THE CZECH CONNECTION,  ROD PATON, JARDA STASTNY & FRIENDS, WELLINGTON SUITE, WELLINGTON HOTEL

The final ticketed concert of the Festival weekend was this event curated by Rod Paton and centred around the album “Moravian Peace” that he recorded in 2008 in the company of Czech musicians pianist Jaroslav ‘Jarda’ Stastny and his trio plus the tenor saxophonist Radek Zapadlo.

Paton, now a Brecon resident, is an academic and french horn player who studied, and later taught, at the Janacek Academy in Brno and retains strong connections with the Czech Republic and with the region of Moravia, of which Brno is the capital, in particular.

Stastny is a composer with an international reputation and currently professor of composition at the Janacek Academy.

It was Paton who was responsible for bringing tenor saxophonist Pavel Zlamal’s PQ quartet to Brecon for a successful performance at St. Mary’s Church on the Saturday of the Festival. Tonight the members of PQ joined forces with Paton and Stastny (who sometimes works under the Anglicised name of Peter Graham) plus guest violinist Xenia Porteous who had appeared the previous day with PQ at the church.

What must surely have been another unique instrumental configuration lined up as follows;

Rod Paton _ french horn, vocals, percussion
Jarda Stastny – keyboard
Pavel Zlamal – tenor sax
Martin Konvicka – piano
Juraj Valencik – double bass
Vaclav Palka – drums
Xenia Porteous – violin

The one-off ensemble commenced with Paton’s “Moravian Peace”, a composition inspired by Czech and Moravian folk melodies but transformed into an effective jazz vehicle and here inspiring a whole string of solos with the leader going first on french horn. Porteous followed on violin, then Zlamal on tenor and Konvicka on piano. In an unusual two keyboard line up Stastny opted to deploy a Hammond organ tone on his Yamaha keyboard. These major solos were followed by a series of quick-fire cameos from the same players before the piece resolved itself with an unaccompanied french horn cadenza from Paton.

The second piece was a Moravian folk song, the theme of which was death – much like most British folk music then. Paton sung the lyrics in the appropriate language as Porteous and Konvicka delivered lyrical instrumental solos, these two followed by Valencik’s melodic double bass.

Next came a piece by Paton, originally written for a horn ensemble called Cornucopia and with a Czech title meaning “Hungarian”.  A clapping intro featuring the whole band saw Afro-Cuban rhythms merging with mazurka like East European folk melodies with solos coming from Zlamal, Paton, Porteous and Konvicka, the latter maintaining a piano sound throughout the set.

Paton’s wittily titled “It Takes Two” introduced an element of Argentinian tango to an already heady brew. The piece was written for a Czech friend’s wedding but Paton couldn’t prevent his love of the music of Astor Piazzolla from coming out. This was only the second performance of the piece and featured a pared down line up of Paton, Porteous, Valencik, Palka and Stastny, the latter now adopting a piano sound. Porteous’ violin playing was prominent and the Cardiff musician acquitted herself well throughout the whole weekend, playing with skill and conviction even in unfamiliar musical situations. She represented an exciting new discovery and a musician to keep a future eye on.

Paton is fearful that his links with the Czech Republic may be affected by Brexit. Indeed with the reports of passport and visa problems having a detrimental effect on musicians appearing at the recent WOMAD Festival his fears are more than justified. British and European musicians of all genres must surely be worried by the implications of Brexit and the potential end of the freedom of movement policy. Indeed the spirit of international co-operation that distinguished this Festival weekend is also threatened.

Paton expressed his anger with the rampaging “Post Brexit Blues” which featured a flamboyant organ solo from Stastny plus further features from Paton, Porteous and Zlamal, the latter with double bass accompaniment only. The impressive Palka then rounded things off with a closing drum feature.

As Paton announced the tune “Free4All” a voice shouted up from the back of the room “any chance of a blow?”. The audience turned round to see a youthful figure who said that he had a trombone with him and had heard that there was to be a jam session as part of this final gig. Paton, somewhat hesitantly, allowed the young man to take to the stage, situated in the front line between himself and Zlamal. The youngster, James Wade Cyrus waited his turn as the piece unfolded, beginning with a solo vocal performance from Paton that was akin to a Scandinavian joik and to Eastern European throat singing. It was weird but strangely effective. Insistent and mesmeric the piece then formed the basis for a series of instrumental solos with Paton going first on horn. Wade Cyrus was next, seizing his chance with a trombone solo that was both rousing and fluent. Paton and Zlamal looked knowingly at each other - “this boy can play!”. Porteous was next to feature followed by a keyboard duet between Konvicka and Stastny, with the latter deploying both piano and organ sounds. The piece then came full circle with more joik like vocals from Paton.

So impressed was Paton that Wade Cyrus, obviously also a skilled reader, was allowed to stay with the band for the final number, also written by Paton. This was “African Brand”, a township jazz style piece written at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release. The mood was appropriately joyous and celebratory and again included a feature for the young trombonist. There was also a blistering tenor solo from Zlamal who relished the opportunity to cut loose, lashed on by Palka’s volcanic drumming. Konvicka also impressed as the ensemble briefly entered into piano trio mode.

It transpired that Wade Cyrus is a sixteen year old from the London area and was visiting Brecon with his parents, long time Brecon Jazz Festival goers. Young James has ambitions to go to music college in the US, or failing this Trinity in London. On this evidence he’s a name to look out for in the future and Paton, an experienced educator, was clearly impressed.

This Czech Connection gig worked well under Paton’s leadership and offered far more than the type of all star jam that the line up might have suggested. There was some excellent music played here and the event rounded off the Festival concert programme in some style. All things considered this Sunday represented an incredible day of music.


FESTIVAL OVERVIEW

2018 was the best Festival since the withdrawal of Orchard and an enormous triumph for the organisers and their tireless band of volunteers. The standard of the performances was consistently high and the Festival was a total success in purely artistic terms. Financially I’m sure it did just fine too, with many sell out performances and large numbers at virtually all the gigs. The old ‘Brecon Buzz’ was definitely back, something encouraged by a busy programme of street events, however with so much going on on the concert programme I didn’t really get to see any of these. The weather put a slight damper on things after such a marvellous summer, but that of course is beyond human control.

It was good to see the co-operation between Lynne and Roger of Brecon Jazz Club and Marc Edwards of Brecon Jazz Futures and this is a fruitful alliance that will hopefully continue. Rod Paton’s contribution was also excellent and hopefully he will continue to be involved.

The stewarding was polite and friendly and took you back to the Festival’s early days, it truly is a community event again now. St. Mary’s Church was excellent as a venue and I’d certainly like to see it used again in the future.

It’s hard to find fault with anything really but one quibble would be the intervals between the gigs. Despite the close proximity of St. Mary’s, the Wellington and the Guildhall the fifteen minute windows weren’t always enough if gigs overran, the half hour gaps which sometimes applied instead were much more manageable.

If fifteen minute windows are to work every gig has to start and finish on time, and few actually did. It’s something that works at Cheltenham, which is bigger and much more corporate but isn’t really right for the more relaxed atmosphere of Brecon, who would want to deny a band a deserved encore? With this in mind it would probably be best if half hour windows become standard next year.

So, a wonderful and near flawless Festival. Congratulations to Lynne and Roger and everybody involved. Here’s to the next one.

 

 


 

 

 

 


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