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Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 29th and 30th August 2019.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Thursday and Friday at Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, Abergavenny, 29th and 30th August 2019.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Ian Shaw, John Law's Re-Creations, the Debs Hancock / Dave Hobbs Duo and Nick Kacal's Guerillasound.

Photograph of Nick Kacal’s Guerillasound by Pam Mann


29/08/2019 and 30/08/2019


Following three successful blues themed evenings in the new Jazz Lounge venue at the Kings Head Hotel Wall2Wall returned to its regular home at the Melville Centre for the bulk of the Festival with a number of concert performances taking place over the weekend. Events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were mainly centred at the Melville but, before this, the now well established Festival Dinner took place in the luxurious surroundings of the splendidly restored ballroom at the Angel Hotel.

The Festival Dinner has become something of a civic event for the town of Abergavenny, always a guaranteed sell out and with the Mayor and Mayoress in attendance. The two course meal always features excellent food and in recent years the entertainment has included superb performances from vocalists Lee Gibson (2016) and Becki Biggins (2018) and from the Bristol based band Moscow Drug Club, fronted by singer and percussionist Katya Gorrie (2017).

As I attended this event as a paying customer I don’t intend to give my usual song by song account but I enjoyed both the meal – the Angel has an excellent reputation for the quality of its food – and the entertainment, a brilliant solo performance by the inimitable vocalist, pianist and raconteur Ian Shaw.

Shaw, arguably the UK’s leading male jazz vocalist, is the biggest name to play the Festival Dinner thus far. A London based artist with a well established recording career he routinely works with the best in the business.

Originally from North Wales Shaw makes regular return visits to his homeland and has previously appeared at the Wall2Wall and Brecon Jazz Festivals.

At the 2017 Wall2Wall Shaw played a concert performance at the Melville, superbly accompanied by pianist Barry Green. My account of that performance can be found as part of that year’s Festival coverage here;

In 2018 he gave a solo performance at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival, a fund raising concert in support of the charity Side By Side With Refugees, a cause very close to Shaw’s heart. Again my review of that show appears as part of my overall Festival coverage here;

In 2011 I enjoyed two sets by Shaw at the Lichfield Real Ale, Jazz and Blues Festival, the second of which saw him joined by a number of guest musicians, including pianist Jonathan Gee, saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev and fellow vocalist Michael Mwenso. Review here;

Turning now to this evening, and Shaw performing to an audience of around one hundred, many of whom may not have heard him before and others who may have had little idea of quite what to expect.

Shaw may be one of the UK’s most respected most respected jazz vocalists, but his talent doesn’t stop there, he is also an accomplished pianist and songwriter and a raconteur with a ready, and often salty wit. In other words Ian Shaw is an entertainer – although having said that he’s emphatically not “show business”, despite having stated out as a stand up comic before turning to music full time.

As a singer Shaw is technically gifted in the extreme. His voice is an extraordinarily flexible instrument, capable of improvised scats that have the fluidity of horn lines and possessed of a remarkable dynamic range that peaks with an almost implausible falsetto. He interrupts himself constantly, peppering his songs with jokes, anecdotes and other asides which frequently make audiences guffaw with laughter. At other times his interpretations, both of his own songs and those of other people, are genuinely emotional and often deeply moving.  He is also a highly accomplished pianist and this ability, combined with his skill as a vocalist, creates a self contained musical unit that impresses on every level. Ian Shaw is a unique entertainer, and, although he probably wouldn’t want to be thought of as such, should be considered as something of a national treasure. 

At the Angel, despite the delicious food that everybody had enjoyed, Shaw soon had the audience eating out of his hand courtesy of his patented recipe of witty repartee and extreme musical facility. He regaled audiences with his tales of growing up in Presbyterian North Wales, of making the move to London, and of playing piano in an Amsterdam brothel. More serious topics included gay rights and the refugee crisis. Behind the sometimes comic façade Shaw is a great humanitarian and a committed campaigner for causes important to him. It wasn’t just his music and humour that endeared him to the audience, it was his warmth and humanity too.

Tonight’s repertoire of songs included a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. Mitchell’s music has always been a touchstone for Shaw, since he first discovered the “Blue” album many years ago, and his bravura performance of this well known song proved to be a great crowd pleaser.

So too was a stunning segue of the David Bowie songs “Where Are We Now” and “Life On Mars”, two songs from very different phases of Bowie’s long career. Also Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman”, which gave Shaw the opportunity to stretch his voice to its limits as he mimicked the sounds of guitars and other instruments. Meanwhile a clever re-write of “The Girl From Ipanema”, re-gendered and re-located, had the audience in stitches.

An accomplished song writer in his own right Shaw’s repertoire also included the poignant and autobiographical “My Brother”, written for a sibling who had perished before Shaw was born, but who has been a constant presence in his life.

On a lighter note the witty and streetwise lyrics of “Carry On World (Starring Everyone)” represented a bitter-sweet anthem for our troubled times.

The Abergavenny audience lapped it all up, with Shaw winning many instant converts. Like all Ian Shaw shows it was hugely entertaining, but also musically satisfying.  Ian Shaw doesn’t pander to a mass audience but nevertheless he deserves to be far better known to the wider public than he actually is.

The comments I heard after this performance were universally positive, whether from regular Shaw listeners or total jazz neophytes. The only complaint was that it was too short, an hour in the company of the multi-talented Ian Shaw just seemed to fly by.

After the performance it was a privilege for me to speak with Ian Shaw for the first time, as warm and witty a personality off stage as he is on it, and generally a wonderful human being.


Pianist and composer John Law is another artist to have visited Abergavenny and Black Mountain Jazz on previous occasions.

In 2009 he visited with his Art of Sound Trio, featuring bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Asaf Sirkis, playing Law’s original compositions. This trio have recorded four volumes of original material.

Two years later Law returned with his Opt Trio, featuring Sirkis and the Russian born bassist Yuri Goloubev. In this case the word ‘Opt’ stood for ‘other peoples tunes’, and in a sense this band represented the forerunner of his current Re-Creations quartet. Both groups specialise in artful deconstructions of ‘outside’ material, including radically altered versions of jazz and pop songs.

These “Re-Creations” are rigorous, with the carefully crafted arrangements often deploying re-harmonisations and the use of unusual,  frequently shifting time signatures. Within this framework plenty of space is left for improvisation and for interaction between the players.  Broadly speaking it’s similar to the approach taken by Brad Mehldau, a musician Law openly acknowledges as an influence- 

The Opt Trio’s only release was an ‘official bootleg’ that Law used to sell at gigs. However his Re-Creations project has been more fully and formally documented with a series of three official album releases on the 33 Record label. “Volume 1” (2017) and “Volume 3” (2019) feature the quartet of Sam Crockatt (saxes), James Agg (double bass) and Billy Weir (drums). “Volume 2”, also 2019, is a solo piano recording.

For this evening’s show at the Melville the unavailable Crockatt was replaced on tenor by rising star saxophonist Josh Schofield, a most able deputy.

The majority of tonight’s material was sourced from the third volume of the Re-Creations series and the performance began with the quartet’s version of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1”. Law likes to challenge his audiences to identify his often heavily disguised “Re-Creations”, and in this case only one member of the crowd could manage it, and it certainly wasn’t me! The performance featured Law on the Melville Centre’s acoustic upright piano and also picking out melodic snatches on glockenspiel. Weir’s dampened drum grooves and feathery cymbal touch provided a subtle rhythmic impetus as Schofield sketched further melodies on tenor sax.

The quartet then segued into a playful arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face The Music And Dance”, giving the old favourite a radical modern twist as Law established an earthy electric piano groove on his Korg SV electric keyboard. This was a frenetic, post modern version of the tune that included a more orthodox acoustic piano solo from Law, still doubling on Korg, and an expansive tenor sax excursion from the excellent Schofield.

Established jazz composers are not immune to the Law treatment. Tonight’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” was introduced by Weir at the drums, joined in dialogue by Agg’s bass, before Schofield sketched the familiar melodic hook on tenor sax. The saxophonist then stretched out further, probing deeply on tenor as Law conducted from the piano chair. The pianist then embarked on his own solo, underscored by Agg’s muscular bass groove and Weir’s fluid, loose timed drumming.

“This is another ‘guess the tune’” said Law as he embarked on a lengthy, arpeggiated solo piano passage that was thoroughly compelling and almost hypnotic. I suspect that, like me, most listeners recognised the allusions to the melody of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Bass and brushed drums were added to the equation before Schofield’s tenor fully embraced the familiar melody.
Agg was the featured soloist, picking out the melody pizzicato above Law’s piano arpeggios, before eventually picking up the bow.

Law’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “So What” saw him doubling on electric and acoustic keyboards and soloing on the latter. He was followed by Schofield on tenor sax before the pair entered into a series of engaging melodic exchanges.

The first deconstruction of a modern pop song followed with Law’s re-imagining of Adele’s “Hello”, one of the centre pieces of “Volume 3”. This was introduced by a further passage of unaccompanied, arpeggiated piano, with Law’s classically honed technique very much to the fore. Again there were subtle allusions to the melody, but the tune only became truly recognisable with Schofield’s tenor sax solo and Agg’s outing on melodic double bass.

George Gershwin’s “Summertime” was introduced by a dialogue between the duo of Law on acoustic piano and Schofield on tenor sax. With the addition of bass and drums each then undertook an individual jazz solo, before the quartet was broken down again for the melodic exchanges between the leader’s piano and Agg’s double bass. The music then became more vigorous with a series of fiercely interactive exchanges between Law, Agg and Weir in piano trio mode. Another duo episode then saw an almost free jazz exchange between Schofield on tenor and a mallet wielding Weir at the drums, this eventually leading to a full blown drum solo from Weir. This was one of the quartet’s most adventurous “Re-Creations”, rarely can this most familiar of Gershwin tunes have been explored so radically, and at such length.

The quartet concluded with a take on The Beatles tune “Ob-La-Di-Ob-Lah Dah”, playfully treating it to a series of stylistic and dynamic variations, ranging from Latin-esque lounge style cheesiness to riotous Django Bares style up-tempo romps. Along the way we heard piano and tenor sax solos and a further series of spirited exchanges between Schofield and Weir.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable set that was well received by a pleasingly sizeable crowd at the Melville. Sound problems early on interrupted the flow a little, although this was more of an issue for the perfectionist Law than for the audience. Everybody played well on these imaginative, and often radical, arrangements with Weir winning many plaudits from members of the audience.

I was also impressed by Schofield, who fitted in seamlessly. It was my first sighting of this highly rated young saxophonist, already a bandleader in his own right, and I predict that we will be hearing a lot more from him in the coming years.

A good start to the main concert programme then, although I did have a few reservations. Law’s approach sometimes seemed to a bit too academic and knowing, too self consciously ‘clever’ for its own good. It’s an issue I’ve previously raised with regard to the music of the American group Mostly Other People Do The Killing, another band of fearsomely talented technicians.

During the course of the concert Law mentioned “I tend to do things in threes”, so it could be that the end of the road is nigh for the Re-Creations project, but hopefully not for this quartet. Law is a highly gifted writer of his own material with an impressive back catalogue of original music,  and it would be nice to hear this quartet tackling some of this.


The ‘Wall2Wall’ nature of the Festival was emphasised by this intimate duo performance in the Melville Centre’s bar area while the turnaround was affected between the Re-Creations quartet and bassist Nick Kacal’s new Guerillasound group.

Vocalist Debs Hancock is a key part of Black Mountain Jazz as an organiser,  band liaison, announcer of acts and more. A highly accomplished multi-tasker she’s also a jazz singer with an increasingly impressive reputation, who has become a great favourite with jazz audiences in South Wales and the Borders.

She has previously worked in a duo situation with pianists Dave Jones and Guy Shotton as well as leading her own groups, usually trios or quartets,  under the generic Jazz Dragons name.

Tonight she was joined by guitarist Dave Hobbs, a one time Jazzmann contributor,  for a performance that initially functioned as background music as people re-charged their glasses after the John Law gig. But it didn’t take long until people were listening more intently as the pair quickly won the audience over with their intimate interpretations of a variety of jazz standards, mostly drawn from the ‘Great American Songbook’, plus a couple of well chosen pop covers.

The standards included “A Foggy Day In London Town”, “Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good To You”, “On Green Dolphin Street”, I Got The World On A String”, “But Beautiful” and a closing “Nature Boy”.

The two pop covers were the theme song from Peaky Blinders and a version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” that elicited an audience sing-along.

A great way to relax between sets, in the company of two of BMJ’s own.


Bassist Nick Kacal recently moved to the Valleys town of Mountain Ash after may years playing on the London jazz circuit, often in pretty weight company.

The arrival in the area of a musician of Kacal’s calibre and quality has represented quite a bonus for the South Wales scene and Kacal’s previous visits to BMJ and Wall2Wall in the company of vocalists Sarah Meek and Becki Biggins have won him many friends.

Kacal has recorded with pianist Alex Hutton and with vocalist Gabrielle Ducomble, and in addition to his talents as a bass player and composer he is also an accomplished recording engineer and producer.

Having previously enjoyed Kacal’s contributions to performances in Abergavenny by Meek and Biggins I was very much looking forward to seeing him leading his own band and presenting his own material.

The group name Guerillasound refers to the kind of tactics musicians have to employ to get a gig. Originally the band was a bass led trio featuring pianist Grant Windsor and bassist Dave Ohm and this London based line up appears on the group’s début album “Three Step, Two Step”.

Tonight’s version of the group was very different, but it did feature a stellar line up with Nicolas Meier on guitar, Richard Jones on violin and young drum tyro Alex Goodyear behind the kit. The core quartet were joined for two numbers by guest vocalist Sarah Meek.

“Three Step, Two Step” features a mix of Kacal originals plus a batch of inspired pop and rock covers. Some superficial parallels to the Law quartet then, but ultimately Guerillasound were significantly different, anybody who feared that the two groups would be too similar was very much mistaken.

Around fifty people attended the Re-Creations event, but only thirty or so returned for Kacal. Those that went home missed something of a treat as the new group delighted their audience with a skilled, spirited and eclectic display that featured some great musicianship.

Meier and Jones play together in the guitarist’s own quartet World Group and have established an excellent rapport. The other axis in the current edition of Guerillasound is the rhythm section of Kacal and RWCMD graduate Goodyear, these two being part of the Guy Shotton led trios that backed both Meek and Biggins.

I assume that Kacal had previously worked with Meier and Jones in London. In any event the new quartet quickly hit its stride to deliver some excellent and very exciting music, like the album a mix of Kacal originals and an eclectic mix of covers sourced from a variety of genres.

The quartet commenced with a jazz standard, “The Way You Look Tonight”, which came packaged in a quirky arrangement that served to introduce the individual instrumental voices of the band. The tune was ushered in by the leader’s bass, this establishing a groove that underpinned the fluid interplay between Meier’s guitar and Jones’ violin, plus the individual solos that followed. The subsequent dialogue between Meier’s guitar and Kacal’s double bass formed the intro for the latter’s own solo, with Goodyear finally rounding things off with a brushed drum feature.

Kacal’s own “Hardware Store” was also introduced by the composer’s bass and proved to be a kind of warped blues with a very contemporary edge. Meier had switched guitars and delivered a powerful solo that exhibited a strong rock influence, with the Swiss making excellent use of the tremolo arm and FX pedals. Jones, too, treated the sound of his instrument via the use of pedals during his eerie and effective violin solo. Kacals’s own solo combined melody with muscularity in impressive fashion while the irrepressible Goodyear enjoyed an energetic drum feature. Impressive stuff.

“If I Only Had A Brain”, from The Wizard of Oz, re-introduced the quirkiness factor. “I feel like I’m living in Oz since I moved to Wales” confessed Kacal. Introduced by a dialogue between Kacal’s bass and Meier’s semi acoustic guitar the familiar theme was eventually taken up by Jones’ violin. The arrangement saw the group breaking down into duos for playful but stimulating pared down dialogues between Meier’s guitar and Goodyear’s drums and later Kacal’s bass and Jones’ violin, with the latter deploying both pizzicato and arco techniques. The choice of tune may have been a bit left field but the performance was genuinely impressive.

Kacal’s own “Absent, Not Gone” was notable for the interplay between Meier’s electric guitar and Jones’ keening violin. With the guitarist again making effective use of tremolo arm and pedals the piece had something of an Americana feel about it and I was reminded of the partnership of Bill Frisell and Eyvind Kang. Meier’s FX drenched solo was genuinely haunting in a group performance that did full justice to one of Kacal’s most emotive and atmospheric compositions.

Sarah Meek joined the group for a song that Kacal described as “a modern classic that you might not have heard in this way before”. The tune turned out to be Nirvana’s “Lithium”, a piece previously recorded by Guerillasound in their piano trio format. Inevitably tonight’s version sounded very different with Meek delivering the lyrics fairly straight. It made a change to actually hear the words clearly enunciated, Kurt Cobain, like John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, being a singer who frequently favoured rawness and emotion over clarity of diction.
Paced by the leader’s bass the arrangement incorporated a bouncy groove that subtly subverted the intensity of the original and saw Meier adopting a warm, Metheny like jazz guitar sound for his solo. Jones followed on violin, soaring above that joyous groove, and Goodyear rounded things off with an increasingly vigorous drum feature. The choice of “Lithium” as a jazz vehicle reminded me of the cult Cardiff band Heavy Quartet blasting out their own mass horn driven version of the song on the Stroller programme at Brecon Jazz Festival back in the 1990s. Happy days.

Meek remained on stage to deliver a sultry vocal on the jazz standard “I’m Confessing That I Love You” in an arrangement that evoked a louche after hours feel with instrumental solos coming from Jones’ wheedling violin and Meier on semi-acoustic guitar. Again the interplay between these two instruments caught the ear before Meek returned to reprise the lyrics.

The free standing posters from BMJ’s ‘Jazz Through The Ages’ exhibition had been positioned around the Melville Centre for the duration of the Festival, including a couple strategically placed behind the musicians. The “Bebop” panel, featuring a photograph of Charlie Parker, was situated just behind Kacal, prompting him to call the Parker bop standard “Segment”. This saw Meier and Jones soloing in suitably boppish fashion above the leader’s rapid bass walk and Goodyear’s crisp drum grooves. Kacal then impressed through his exchanges with Jones and his subsequent agile bass solo before Goodyear wrapped things up with a briskly brushed drum feature.

The Kacal original “Open Hat” introduced an element of funk to the proceedings, courtesy of the leader’s bass grooves and Meier’s choppy, wah wah guitar chording. Meier’s solo exhibited a strong rock element while Jones’ equally powerful violin feature found him also making use of wah wah and other effects. Kacal introduced the famous bass hook from Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” as he introduced the band, eventually abandoning this as he discovered that playing and announcing simultaneously wasn’t quite as easy as he thought. Nice try though, and nobody seemed to mind too much.

In keeping with their name Guerillasound had produced one of the surprises of the Festival. The gig may have been relatively sparsely attended but it was still a triumph with Kacal and his colleagues delivering a bright and energetic performance that included some exceptional playing.

I was also highly impressed with the quality of Kacal’s original writing, which embraced a variety of musical styles within a broader jazz framework. Meanwhile the covers were well chosen and played with genuine enthusiasm. There was a freshness and joyousness about Guerillasound’s performance that made their attitude to their eclectic range of covers seem more natural and organic than Law’s more studied and academic approach.

Of course having the mighty Nic Meier in its ranks is a huge boost for any band but everybody impressed with their contributions. Jones, originally from Cardiff but now based in London, won many plaudits from other listeners as did the eager Goodyear, a real rising star of the jazz scene. Kacal held it all together from the bass, the anchor of the band but also a highly fluent and dexterous bass soloist.

Guerillasound is something of an umbrella term for Kacal’s projects and a number of well known musicians such as pianists Zoe Rahman and Tom Cawley have at one time passed through its ranks.
The piano trio album is an impressive piece of work that again contains some excellent playing and writing plus a vibrant recorded sound that is also a tribute to Kacal’s engineering and production skills. If tonight’s line up is the new permanent line up of Guerillasound, as was at some point suggested, let’s hope that they are able to document their music on disc too.

Tonight’s three performances, in both the theatre and the bar, got the weekend’s events off to a great start with Kacal’s Guerillasound representing the ‘Discovery of the Festival’. Let’s hope that tonight’s excellent performance helps to open more doors for this very talented line up.

My thanks to Nic Meier for providing me with an advance copy of his soon to be released album “Peaceful”, featuring his World Group comprised of himself, Jones, bassist Kevin Glasgow and percussionist Demi Garcia. I intend to undertake a full review of this in due course.

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