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Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet - Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A warming evening of “tunes with a dark winter theme” from a well balanced and highly interactive quartet.

BEN THOMAS / JIM BLOMFIELD QUARTET, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ, MELVILLE CENTRE, ABERGAVENNY, 26/11/2017.

South Wales based trumpeter Ben Thomas has been an important figure on the jazz scene in the Anglo-Welsh Borders for a number of years. Born in Pembrokeshire and at one time a resident of Hereford I’ve often seen him performing standards with a variety of local combos, often in the company of bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Dave Price. 

But there’s more to Ben Thomas than simply playing standards. An increasingly restlessly creative soul he has released a number of albums of original material, some of them under the name of The Edge Project.  All of them present a highly personal mix of jazz and other music styles, with poetry and song also prominent in the mix.

Thomas has become increasingly interested in multi media projects, particularly with regard to the interface where music and the visual arts meet.  His previous Black Mountain Jazz performance at the Kings Arms in November 2015 found Thomas co-leading a quintet with Shrewsbury based saxophonist Ed Rees that included fellow musicians Trevor Lines (bass) and Lydia Glanville (drums) with visual artist Robyn Hobbs painting and drawing in real time to provide visual images to accompany the music. This was an experiment that worked extremely well and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-ed-rees-quintet-black-mountain-jazz-kings-arms-abergavenny-29-11/

It was clear that the audience at the Kings Arms had enjoyed that event and BMJ enjoyed one of their best turnouts of the season for this performance at the Melville Centre featuring Thomas’ latest project, a quartet co-led with Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield. Indeed this was essentially a Bristol based band with Thomas and Blomfield joined by Pasquale Votino on double bass and Paolo Adamo at the drums, two of that city’s first call rhythm players.

Blomfield is a highly distinctive and inventive piano soloist who leads his own trio as well as being one of the most in demand sidemen in Bristol, the West Country and South Wales. He works regularly with saxophonist Kevin Figes and has also performed with violinist/vocalist Azhar Saffar, bassist and composer Greg Cordez, saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Pete Canter,  trumpeter Andy Hague, vocalist Victoria Klewin and the band Balanca, led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones.
In 2014 Blomfield released the excellent trio album “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”  featuring bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wave-forms-and-sea-changes/

Ben Thomas likes to structure his live performances around specific themes. In May 2016 he co-led a quartet with Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin at Brecon Jazz Club that played imaginative arrangements of music sourced from television and cinema. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

At the Melville Centre on a dark, cold November night Thomas chose to celebrate the onset of winter with a set of “tunes with a dark winter theme”. These not only reflected the character of the season but also his own “dark side”, a facet of his personality that has hitherto found something of an outlet in his recordings and associated artistic activities.

Consequently the mood of many of the pieces was sombre, reflective and melancholic yet remained eminently accessible and often very moving. The material was largely original, although there was one jazz standard, plus a couple of inspired pop and rock covers which I’ll come to later. There was a small degree of overlap with the November 2015 performance at the Kings Arms featuring Rees and Hobbs which had been based around an ‘elemental’ theme.

The quartet began with a Thomas composition with a single word title that sounded like “Mern”. Of its meaning Thomas commented enigmatically “it’s not important right now”.  The music was a little easier to get a handle on with Thomas stating the theme on trumpet as Blomfield’s snake like piano lines slithered in and out of the piece, coiling themselves around Thomas’s trumpet phrases. Blomfield was similarly inventive as he soloed on an acoustic upright piano specifically hired for the occasion. He was followed by Thomas on trumpet and Votino on melodic double bass.

Thomas announced “Gentlemen’s Relish” as being “a tune about diversity”. This was introduced by a carefully constructed and neatly detailed passage of solo drumming from Adamo followed by searching solos from Thomas on trumpet and Blomfield at the piano.

The first pop/rock cover was David Bowie’s “Bring Me The Disco King”, a tune that Thomas had also performed at the Kings Arms back in 2015.  Like the previous item it was ushered in by Adamo at the drums with Votino subsequently picking out the melody on double bass before handing over to Thomas.  The trumpeter played the piece in the style of a jazz ballad, albeit one with an underlying hip hop groove.  Blomfield then impressed with the lyricism of his piano solo before handing over to Adamo at the bass. Thomas then returned to further embellish the melody to a rhythmic backdrop that included the sound of dampened piano strings.  This was a delightful and often moving interpretation of Bowie’s piece. Incidentally the song was recorded by the Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing on his 2012 album “True”.

In keeping with the evening’s theme Thomas’ own “Achilles’ Heel” was suitably noirish and was introduced by the sinister buzz of the composer’s vocalised trumpet.  Votino’s grounding bass groove and the intricate detail of Adamo’s drumming then underpinned further solos from Blomfield and Thomas.

“As this is a jazz club we’d better play a jazz standard” explained Thomas as he announced the final number of the first set, Jimmy van Heusen’s “It Could Happen To You”. This saw Thomas delivering the theme on trumpet before handing over to Votino for a double bass solo that was simultaneously dexterous, melodic and resonant – and wide ranging too, with much of the playing taking place around the bridge of the instrument. Thomas and Blomfield followed on trumpet and piano respectively before the pair traded fours with Adamo to close the first half in unexpectedly conventional fashion.

Set two continued the journey into the heart of the winter darkness with an opening segue of “Longest Night” and “Mother Earth”, the composer standing almost statuesque as he delivered his mournfully emotive trumpet lines above the sparse groove generated by Votino and Adamo. Blomfield’s piano solo began in thoughtful, lyrical fashion before before becoming more expansive with a passage of unaccompanied drumming from Adamo then acting as the link into the second half of the segue.
Thomas’ halting theme statement evolved into a solo from Blomfield that was now spikier and more percussive as he entered into a series of exchanges with Adamo, their discourse underpinned by Votino’s anchoring bass. Thomas then concluded this sequence with his second trumpet solo.

The second rock cover was Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, another tune that had been performed previously at the Kings Arms. Wyatt’s slightly lugubrious brand of melancholy was also perfectly suited to this evening’s theme with Thomas’ trumpet replicating something of the fragility and plaintiveness of Wyatt’s singing on the original, which first appeared on the celebrated “Rock Bottom” album. An unexpected free jazz episode mid tune included Votino on bowed bass before the piece resolved itself with the soft sadness of Thomas’ trumpet whispers and the gentle patter of Adamo’s brushes and hands on skins.

“Heebie Jeebies” was another tune to survive from the Kings Arms session and saw the quartet adopting a more conventional jazz approach, almost sounding boppish at times. Blomfield took the opening solo followed by Thomas, the latter with only bass and piano for company.  Votino then took over for a typically dexterous bass solo underpinned by Blomfield’s sparse piano chording and the clatter of Adamo’s sticks on rims. Finally it was the turn of the drummer himself with a typically well constructed solo feature.

Things lightened up a little with the gorgeously melodic “Fallen Angel” which brought a flowing lyricism to the solos of Blomfield, Thomas and Votino with Adamo adding suitably sympathetic support.

Similarly lovely was “Snowmaiden”, the simple melody and chilly lyricism evoking images of snow covered winter scenes as Thomas soloed while the rest of the quartet provided subtle, low key support with Adamo wielding brushes.

Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter the audience responded warmly to the quartet’s wintry music and invited them back for an encore.  Announcing “Founders Of Our Time” Thomas described the tune as being “bright and optimistic” before adding “I have a problem with it”.  “I don’t – I like it!” countered Blomfield who had periodically attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings, even playing a snippet of “Jingle Bells” during one of Ben’s tune announcements! And, yes, things did end on upbeat note as the co-leaders traded solos for a final time.

Reviewing this performance for Jazz Journal Nigel Jarrett compared Thomas’ playing to that of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Kenny Wheeler, all musicians capable of making the dark and melancholic sound profoundly beautiful. For myself Thomas’ sombre timbres also reminded of the great Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko.

But it wasn’t just about the trumpeter, Thomas was well served by a well balanced and highly interactive quartet. Co-leader Blomfield impressed as always with his inventive and imaginative solos, as did bassist Votino whose playing came to the fore on several occasions. Adamo’s contribution was also excellent, providing the necessary rhythmic impetus but also playing with great sensitivity when the occasion demanded it.

Following a successful British tour it is to be hoped that the Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet are able to commit their music to disc.

Meanwhile this concert represented a highly successful conclusion to an excellent year of music at Black Mountain Jazz.

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017.

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet

Friday, December 08, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Robyn Hobbs

A warming evening of “tunes with a dark winter theme” from a well balanced and highly interactive quartet.

BEN THOMAS / JIM BLOMFIELD QUARTET, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ, MELVILLE CENTRE, ABERGAVENNY, 26/11/2017.

South Wales based trumpeter Ben Thomas has been an important figure on the jazz scene in the Anglo-Welsh Borders for a number of years. Born in Pembrokeshire and at one time a resident of Hereford I’ve often seen him performing standards with a variety of local combos, often in the company of bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Dave Price. 

But there’s more to Ben Thomas than simply playing standards. An increasingly restlessly creative soul he has released a number of albums of original material, some of them under the name of The Edge Project.  All of them present a highly personal mix of jazz and other music styles, with poetry and song also prominent in the mix.

Thomas has become increasingly interested in multi media projects, particularly with regard to the interface where music and the visual arts meet.  His previous Black Mountain Jazz performance at the Kings Arms in November 2015 found Thomas co-leading a quintet with Shrewsbury based saxophonist Ed Rees that included fellow musicians Trevor Lines (bass) and Lydia Glanville (drums) with visual artist Robyn Hobbs painting and drawing in real time to provide visual images to accompany the music. This was an experiment that worked extremely well and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-ed-rees-quintet-black-mountain-jazz-kings-arms-abergavenny-29-11/

It was clear that the audience at the Kings Arms had enjoyed that event and BMJ enjoyed one of their best turnouts of the season for this performance at the Melville Centre featuring Thomas’ latest project, a quartet co-led with Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield. Indeed this was essentially a Bristol based band with Thomas and Blomfield joined by Pasquale Votino on double bass and Paolo Adamo at the drums, two of that city’s first call rhythm players.

Blomfield is a highly distinctive and inventive piano soloist who leads his own trio as well as being one of the most in demand sidemen in Bristol, the West Country and South Wales. He works regularly with saxophonist Kevin Figes and has also performed with violinist/vocalist Azhar Saffar, bassist and composer Greg Cordez, saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Pete Canter,  trumpeter Andy Hague, vocalist Victoria Klewin and the band Balanca, led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones.
In 2014 Blomfield released the excellent trio album “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”  featuring bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wave-forms-and-sea-changes/

Ben Thomas likes to structure his live performances around specific themes. In May 2016 he co-led a quartet with Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin at Brecon Jazz Club that played imaginative arrangements of music sourced from television and cinema. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

At the Melville Centre on a dark, cold November night Thomas chose to celebrate the onset of winter with a set of “tunes with a dark winter theme”. These not only reflected the character of the season but also his own “dark side”, a facet of his personality that has hitherto found something of an outlet in his recordings and associated artistic activities.

Consequently the mood of many of the pieces was sombre, reflective and melancholic yet remained eminently accessible and often very moving. The material was largely original, although there was one jazz standard, plus a couple of inspired pop and rock covers which I’ll come to later. There was a small degree of overlap with the November 2015 performance at the Kings Arms featuring Rees and Hobbs which had been based around an ‘elemental’ theme.

The quartet began with a Thomas composition with a single word title that sounded like “Mern”. Of its meaning Thomas commented enigmatically “it’s not important right now”.  The music was a little easier to get a handle on with Thomas stating the theme on trumpet as Blomfield’s snake like piano lines slithered in and out of the piece, coiling themselves around Thomas’s trumpet phrases. Blomfield was similarly inventive as he soloed on an acoustic upright piano specifically hired for the occasion. He was followed by Thomas on trumpet and Votino on melodic double bass.

Thomas announced “Gentlemen’s Relish” as being “a tune about diversity”. This was introduced by a carefully constructed and neatly detailed passage of solo drumming from Adamo followed by searching solos from Thomas on trumpet and Blomfield at the piano.

The first pop/rock cover was David Bowie’s “Bring Me The Disco King”, a tune that Thomas had also performed at the Kings Arms back in 2015.  Like the previous item it was ushered in by Adamo at the drums with Votino subsequently picking out the melody on double bass before handing over to Thomas.  The trumpeter played the piece in the style of a jazz ballad, albeit one with an underlying hip hop groove.  Blomfield then impressed with the lyricism of his piano solo before handing over to Adamo at the bass. Thomas then returned to further embellish the melody to a rhythmic backdrop that included the sound of dampened piano strings.  This was a delightful and often moving interpretation of Bowie’s piece. Incidentally the song was recorded by the Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing on his 2012 album “True”.

In keeping with the evening’s theme Thomas’ own “Achilles’ Heel” was suitably noirish and was introduced by the sinister buzz of the composer’s vocalised trumpet.  Votino’s grounding bass groove and the intricate detail of Adamo’s drumming then underpinned further solos from Blomfield and Thomas.

“As this is a jazz club we’d better play a jazz standard” explained Thomas as he announced the final number of the first set, Jimmy van Heusen’s “It Could Happen To You”. This saw Thomas delivering the theme on trumpet before handing over to Votino for a double bass solo that was simultaneously dexterous, melodic and resonant – and wide ranging too, with much of the playing taking place around the bridge of the instrument. Thomas and Blomfield followed on trumpet and piano respectively before the pair traded fours with Adamo to close the first half in unexpectedly conventional fashion.

Set two continued the journey into the heart of the winter darkness with an opening segue of “Longest Night” and “Mother Earth”, the composer standing almost statuesque as he delivered his mournfully emotive trumpet lines above the sparse groove generated by Votino and Adamo. Blomfield’s piano solo began in thoughtful, lyrical fashion before before becoming more expansive with a passage of unaccompanied drumming from Adamo then acting as the link into the second half of the segue.
Thomas’ halting theme statement evolved into a solo from Blomfield that was now spikier and more percussive as he entered into a series of exchanges with Adamo, their discourse underpinned by Votino’s anchoring bass. Thomas then concluded this sequence with his second trumpet solo.

The second rock cover was Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, another tune that had been performed previously at the Kings Arms. Wyatt’s slightly lugubrious brand of melancholy was also perfectly suited to this evening’s theme with Thomas’ trumpet replicating something of the fragility and plaintiveness of Wyatt’s singing on the original, which first appeared on the celebrated “Rock Bottom” album. An unexpected free jazz episode mid tune included Votino on bowed bass before the piece resolved itself with the soft sadness of Thomas’ trumpet whispers and the gentle patter of Adamo’s brushes and hands on skins.

“Heebie Jeebies” was another tune to survive from the Kings Arms session and saw the quartet adopting a more conventional jazz approach, almost sounding boppish at times. Blomfield took the opening solo followed by Thomas, the latter with only bass and piano for company.  Votino then took over for a typically dexterous bass solo underpinned by Blomfield’s sparse piano chording and the clatter of Adamo’s sticks on rims. Finally it was the turn of the drummer himself with a typically well constructed solo feature.

Things lightened up a little with the gorgeously melodic “Fallen Angel” which brought a flowing lyricism to the solos of Blomfield, Thomas and Votino with Adamo adding suitably sympathetic support.

Similarly lovely was “Snowmaiden”, the simple melody and chilly lyricism evoking images of snow covered winter scenes as Thomas soloed while the rest of the quartet provided subtle, low key support with Adamo wielding brushes.

Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter the audience responded warmly to the quartet’s wintry music and invited them back for an encore.  Announcing “Founders Of Our Time” Thomas described the tune as being “bright and optimistic” before adding “I have a problem with it”.  “I don’t – I like it!” countered Blomfield who had periodically attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings, even playing a snippet of “Jingle Bells” during one of Ben’s tune announcements! And, yes, things did end on upbeat note as the co-leaders traded solos for a final time.

Reviewing this performance for Jazz Journal Nigel Jarrett compared Thomas’ playing to that of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Kenny Wheeler, all musicians capable of making the dark and melancholic sound profoundly beautiful. For myself Thomas’ sombre timbres also reminded of the great Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko.

But it wasn’t just about the trumpeter, Thomas was well served by a well balanced and highly interactive quartet. Co-leader Blomfield impressed as always with his inventive and imaginative solos, as did bassist Votino whose playing came to the fore on several occasions. Adamo’s contribution was also excellent, providing the necessary rhythmic impetus but also playing with great sensitivity when the occasion demanded it.

Following a successful British tour it is to be hoped that the Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet are able to commit their music to disc.

Meanwhile this concert represented a highly successful conclusion to an excellent year of music at Black Mountain Jazz.


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