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Chop Idols - Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols is a quintet from South Wales fronted by the twin trumpets of Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams.

Before settling on their current band name Williams and Liddington performed a number of gigs under the name Little Big Horn, a tongue in cheek reference to the very different physiques of the co-leaders, the diminutive, puckish Williams and the man mountain that is Gethin Liddington. Despite their disparate statures both men are united by a love of jazz of all kinds and by the fact that both are very talented trumpet and flugelhorn players, Chop Idols indeed.

Williams plays right across the jazz spectrum from trad with his Good Old Spit and Dribble Jass Band to funk and fusion with his Project X. Liddington is equally versatile and often plays alongside Williams in the latter’s New Era Reborn Brass Band. Liddington is a regular member of trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quintet and I’ve also seen or heard him performing with bands led by bassist Paula Gardiner and pianist Dave Jones and as a guest soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Big Band. Liddington also has impeccable avant garde credentials having played and recorded with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall. 

Williams has described Chop Idols as “our homage to the trumpet greats” and although the quintet’s repertoire is drawn from jazz standards associated with such seminal jazz figures as Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry there’s no sense of mere pastiche, Williams, Liddington and their colleagues really do put their own stamp on the music. In the main the arrangements are by Williams who admitted to borrowing some of the ideas of the American trumpeter and arranger Rich Willey with regard to the numerous trumpet and flugel duets that populated the set.

In May 2015 I saw Chop Idols deliver an energetic and highly entertaining performance at the Open Hearth pub in Sebastopol near Pontypool, an event promoted by Martin Fisher of Jazz MF. Fisher also played drums with a quintet that included the two trumpeters plus pianist Richard West and master bassist Ashley John Long.

Liddington, Williams, West and Long were all in attendance for this well supported event at Black Mountain Jazz. On this occasion the drum chair was occupied by James Sherwood, a talented and highly promising young musician currently studying on the Jazz Course at the RWCMD in Cardiff.

Tonight’s two sets included some of the material that had been played at the Open Hearth but there were also a number of different items in the repertoire and, in the first half, something of a different approach.

As at Sebastopol the quintet kicked off with a Rich Willey adaptation in a broadly New Orleans/mainstream style of “Slow Boat To China”, recast by the arranger as “Speedboat To Singapore”. Willey’s pieces aren’t quite true ‘contrafacts’ ( i.e. a new tune written over an existing chord sequence) as the original melody frequently surfaces from time to time. Here Williams actually sung a section of the lyrics, the vocalising following an introductory passage featuring the dovetailing of the two trumpets as Williams and Liddington set their stall out with their interchanging lines. Conventional jazz solos subsequently came from both trumpeters, plus West at the piano and Long on double bass before Liddington and Williams wrapped things up with a further series of trumpet exchanges.

The co-leaders then slowed things down a little with a version of “ I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. “It’s in the key of F” Williams informed us, “in case anybody’s taking notes”. He probably meant me. This was altogether less frenetic and featured the combination of Williams on trumpet and Liddington on flugel, a distinctive four valve model. Williams stated the theme before handing over to Liddington and again Williams sang something of the lyrics of a song once recorded by Louis Armstrong. Instrumental solos came from Liddington on flugel and Williams on trumpet with the co-leaders subsequently vacating the stage to allow West and Long the opportunity to stretch out. Long is one of the most inventive and compelling double bass soloists around, an enormously versatile and talented musician who can also double very convincingly on vibraphone (although not in this band). West is also a hugely imaginative soloist who has always impressed me whenever I’ve seen him. After the show there was a suggestion that he should return to BMJ at some point in the future leading his own group. A very good idea, and hopefully something to look forward to.

Long introduced Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night In Tunisia”, first joined by drums and piano and then by the two trumpets, Williams deploying a plunger mute as the two horn men exchanged phrases. Both trumpeters delivered bravura solos, Liddington going first, and they were followed by West and Sherwood, the latter delivering a well constructed drum feature before the twin horns returned. Gillespie’s tune has always been a huge favourite with audiences and this rendition was very well received.

It’s a characteristic of Chop Idols shows that each co-leader gets to enjoy an individual feature, usually a ballad. In the first set it was Liddington’s turn with a glorious interpretation of “Body And Soul” on that famous four valved flugel, the only one I’ve ever seen. The big man introduced the piece unaccompanied in a technical and emotional tour de force. He was later joined by piano, bass and brushed drums. West’s piano solo featured him at his most lyrical while Long was supremely melodic on double bass. The piece ended as it began with another divine passage of solo flugel, this earning a nod of approval from Long, who stood watching while cradling the neck of his double bass.

Clark Terry is a touchstone for both trumpeters, as he once was for Miles Davis, and Williams returned to both play and sing on a version of Terry’s bebop classic “Mumbles”. Williams’ humorous scat vocal embodied the title with instrumental solos coming from Liddington on muted trumpet and West at the piano, with the twin trumpets finally coming together for the final theme statement.

“Quasi-Boogaloo” was once played by a stellar quintet featuring the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on double bass and Ed Thigpen at the drums. The Chop Idols version was pretty special too in a hard bop style arrangement that included a fiery opening trumpet solo from Williams, arguably his best of the night. He was followed by West at the piano and then Liddington on trumpet, who adopted a cooler approach, his use of the Harmon mute ensuring that he sounded somewhat Miles-ish. Long’s absorbing dialogue with Sherwood incorporated some more virtuoso playing from the bassist, centred around the bridge of his instrument.

At this point the musicians decided to take a break before returning for a wholly instrumental second set. Sherwood’s martial style drumming introduced “I’ve Found A New Baby” which featured Williams on trumpet, sometimes plunger muted, and Liddington on flugel. Williams took the first solo followed by Liddington, his flugel at one point accompanied by Long only. The bassist was also to feature as a soloist, as was West at the piano.

Dipping into the Rich Willey repertoire again the quintet performed an adaptation of the evergreen standard “Autumn Leaves”, wittily retitled “Better Get Out The Rake”. This featured Long stating the melody alongside the two trumpets with further solos from Williams, West and Liddington, plus a closing series of trumpet exchanges.

Williams’ ballad feature was an arrangement of “It Might As Well Be Spring” that was inspired by the recording by the late, great Clifford Brown. West, Long and Sherwood accompanied him with great sensitivity, the latter deploying brushes on his drums.

“Another Chew”, a Rich Willey adaptation of the standard “There Will Never Be Another You” introduced a fresh instrumental combination as the co-leaders double up on flugel horns. Williams stated the original melody with Liddington supplying a counter-melody before the two traded solos, with Liddington deploying a Harmon mute on his flugel to soften the sound yet further. West also featured as a soloist but it was the inventive, sometimes contrapuntal interplay between the two flugels that was particularly engrossing.

One of the highlights at the Open Hearth had been a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” which the valve trombonist recorded on the 1965 album “The Power Of Positive Swinging”, a quintet date which Brookmeyer co-led with Clark Terry. With both Liddington and Williams using plunger muted trumpets to capture something of the flavour of New Orleans this was a rousing rendition that saw Liddington soloing first, his use of the mute giving his playing a growling, vocalised quality. Williams followed with a bright, strident solo on the open horn. Meanwhile West threatened to steal the show with a rollicking, technically dazzling piano solo that embraced all the elements of Southern music – New Orleans, honky tonk, stride, boogie woogie etc. It earned him probably the biggest cheer of the night.

The evening concluded with a brief, romping segue of the Charlie Parker tunes“ Indiana” and “Donna Lee” with the two trumpeters negotiating the tricky bebop lines in unison before trading pithy solos, with Long also weighing in on double bass.

The audience at this well attended event were clearly delighted by this second half and gave the quintet a great reception. It was also pleasing to see the presence of a recording desk staffed by two engineers and it would appear that a Chop Idols live album is in the planning. The finished results should be well worth hearing.

My only reservations regarded Williams’ singing in the first half of the set. Much as I like Ceri and admire his playing he isn’t a natural vocalist –a fact that he himself readily admits. “Don’t worry I’m not setting up as a singer” as he told me afterwards, “But I’ve been playing these tunes for so long that I thought I’d sing some of the lyrics too”.  I guess us jazz audiences have become so used to hearing these tunes as instrumentals that we tend to forget that they started out as actual songs. But to these ears Chop Idols sounded far better as an instrumental unit. Maybe Williams was trying the vocals out to see how they sounded on the recording, but to be brutally honest the singing didn’t do much for me, and I hope that any subsequent album puts the emphasis on the playing alone.

That said Chop Idols is a supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour. The co-leaders are both highly fluent and often very exciting trumpet soloists and they are well supported by a swinging rhythm section that also harbours two highly inventive soloists in West and Long. It all adds up to something of a dream package.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The  Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

A supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols is a quintet from South Wales fronted by the twin trumpets of Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams.

Before settling on their current band name Williams and Liddington performed a number of gigs under the name Little Big Horn, a tongue in cheek reference to the very different physiques of the co-leaders, the diminutive, puckish Williams and the man mountain that is Gethin Liddington. Despite their disparate statures both men are united by a love of jazz of all kinds and by the fact that both are very talented trumpet and flugelhorn players, Chop Idols indeed.

Williams plays right across the jazz spectrum from trad with his Good Old Spit and Dribble Jass Band to funk and fusion with his Project X. Liddington is equally versatile and often plays alongside Williams in the latter’s New Era Reborn Brass Band. Liddington is a regular member of trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quintet and I’ve also seen or heard him performing with bands led by bassist Paula Gardiner and pianist Dave Jones and as a guest soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Big Band. Liddington also has impeccable avant garde credentials having played and recorded with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall. 

Williams has described Chop Idols as “our homage to the trumpet greats” and although the quintet’s repertoire is drawn from jazz standards associated with such seminal jazz figures as Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry there’s no sense of mere pastiche, Williams, Liddington and their colleagues really do put their own stamp on the music. In the main the arrangements are by Williams who admitted to borrowing some of the ideas of the American trumpeter and arranger Rich Willey with regard to the numerous trumpet and flugel duets that populated the set.

In May 2015 I saw Chop Idols deliver an energetic and highly entertaining performance at the Open Hearth pub in Sebastopol near Pontypool, an event promoted by Martin Fisher of Jazz MF. Fisher also played drums with a quintet that included the two trumpeters plus pianist Richard West and master bassist Ashley John Long.

Liddington, Williams, West and Long were all in attendance for this well supported event at Black Mountain Jazz. On this occasion the drum chair was occupied by James Sherwood, a talented and highly promising young musician currently studying on the Jazz Course at the RWCMD in Cardiff.

Tonight’s two sets included some of the material that had been played at the Open Hearth but there were also a number of different items in the repertoire and, in the first half, something of a different approach.

As at Sebastopol the quintet kicked off with a Rich Willey adaptation in a broadly New Orleans/mainstream style of “Slow Boat To China”, recast by the arranger as “Speedboat To Singapore”. Willey’s pieces aren’t quite true ‘contrafacts’ ( i.e. a new tune written over an existing chord sequence) as the original melody frequently surfaces from time to time. Here Williams actually sung a section of the lyrics, the vocalising following an introductory passage featuring the dovetailing of the two trumpets as Williams and Liddington set their stall out with their interchanging lines. Conventional jazz solos subsequently came from both trumpeters, plus West at the piano and Long on double bass before Liddington and Williams wrapped things up with a further series of trumpet exchanges.

The co-leaders then slowed things down a little with a version of “ I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. “It’s in the key of F” Williams informed us, “in case anybody’s taking notes”. He probably meant me. This was altogether less frenetic and featured the combination of Williams on trumpet and Liddington on flugel, a distinctive four valve model. Williams stated the theme before handing over to Liddington and again Williams sang something of the lyrics of a song once recorded by Louis Armstrong. Instrumental solos came from Liddington on flugel and Williams on trumpet with the co-leaders subsequently vacating the stage to allow West and Long the opportunity to stretch out. Long is one of the most inventive and compelling double bass soloists around, an enormously versatile and talented musician who can also double very convincingly on vibraphone (although not in this band). West is also a hugely imaginative soloist who has always impressed me whenever I’ve seen him. After the show there was a suggestion that he should return to BMJ at some point in the future leading his own group. A very good idea, and hopefully something to look forward to.

Long introduced Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night In Tunisia”, first joined by drums and piano and then by the two trumpets, Williams deploying a plunger mute as the two horn men exchanged phrases. Both trumpeters delivered bravura solos, Liddington going first, and they were followed by West and Sherwood, the latter delivering a well constructed drum feature before the twin horns returned. Gillespie’s tune has always been a huge favourite with audiences and this rendition was very well received.

It’s a characteristic of Chop Idols shows that each co-leader gets to enjoy an individual feature, usually a ballad. In the first set it was Liddington’s turn with a glorious interpretation of “Body And Soul” on that famous four valved flugel, the only one I’ve ever seen. The big man introduced the piece unaccompanied in a technical and emotional tour de force. He was later joined by piano, bass and brushed drums. West’s piano solo featured him at his most lyrical while Long was supremely melodic on double bass. The piece ended as it began with another divine passage of solo flugel, this earning a nod of approval from Long, who stood watching while cradling the neck of his double bass.

Clark Terry is a touchstone for both trumpeters, as he once was for Miles Davis, and Williams returned to both play and sing on a version of Terry’s bebop classic “Mumbles”. Williams’ humorous scat vocal embodied the title with instrumental solos coming from Liddington on muted trumpet and West at the piano, with the twin trumpets finally coming together for the final theme statement.

“Quasi-Boogaloo” was once played by a stellar quintet featuring the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on double bass and Ed Thigpen at the drums. The Chop Idols version was pretty special too in a hard bop style arrangement that included a fiery opening trumpet solo from Williams, arguably his best of the night. He was followed by West at the piano and then Liddington on trumpet, who adopted a cooler approach, his use of the Harmon mute ensuring that he sounded somewhat Miles-ish. Long’s absorbing dialogue with Sherwood incorporated some more virtuoso playing from the bassist, centred around the bridge of his instrument.

At this point the musicians decided to take a break before returning for a wholly instrumental second set. Sherwood’s martial style drumming introduced “I’ve Found A New Baby” which featured Williams on trumpet, sometimes plunger muted, and Liddington on flugel. Williams took the first solo followed by Liddington, his flugel at one point accompanied by Long only. The bassist was also to feature as a soloist, as was West at the piano.

Dipping into the Rich Willey repertoire again the quintet performed an adaptation of the evergreen standard “Autumn Leaves”, wittily retitled “Better Get Out The Rake”. This featured Long stating the melody alongside the two trumpets with further solos from Williams, West and Liddington, plus a closing series of trumpet exchanges.

Williams’ ballad feature was an arrangement of “It Might As Well Be Spring” that was inspired by the recording by the late, great Clifford Brown. West, Long and Sherwood accompanied him with great sensitivity, the latter deploying brushes on his drums.

“Another Chew”, a Rich Willey adaptation of the standard “There Will Never Be Another You” introduced a fresh instrumental combination as the co-leaders double up on flugel horns. Williams stated the original melody with Liddington supplying a counter-melody before the two traded solos, with Liddington deploying a Harmon mute on his flugel to soften the sound yet further. West also featured as a soloist but it was the inventive, sometimes contrapuntal interplay between the two flugels that was particularly engrossing.

One of the highlights at the Open Hearth had been a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” which the valve trombonist recorded on the 1965 album “The Power Of Positive Swinging”, a quintet date which Brookmeyer co-led with Clark Terry. With both Liddington and Williams using plunger muted trumpets to capture something of the flavour of New Orleans this was a rousing rendition that saw Liddington soloing first, his use of the mute giving his playing a growling, vocalised quality. Williams followed with a bright, strident solo on the open horn. Meanwhile West threatened to steal the show with a rollicking, technically dazzling piano solo that embraced all the elements of Southern music – New Orleans, honky tonk, stride, boogie woogie etc. It earned him probably the biggest cheer of the night.

The evening concluded with a brief, romping segue of the Charlie Parker tunes“ Indiana” and “Donna Lee” with the two trumpeters negotiating the tricky bebop lines in unison before trading pithy solos, with Long also weighing in on double bass.

The audience at this well attended event were clearly delighted by this second half and gave the quintet a great reception. It was also pleasing to see the presence of a recording desk staffed by two engineers and it would appear that a Chop Idols live album is in the planning. The finished results should be well worth hearing.

My only reservations regarded Williams’ singing in the first half of the set. Much as I like Ceri and admire his playing he isn’t a natural vocalist –a fact that he himself readily admits. “Don’t worry I’m not setting up as a singer” as he told me afterwards, “But I’ve been playing these tunes for so long that I thought I’d sing some of the lyrics too”.  I guess us jazz audiences have become so used to hearing these tunes as instrumentals that we tend to forget that they started out as actual songs. But to these ears Chop Idols sounded far better as an instrumental unit. Maybe Williams was trying the vocals out to see how they sounded on the recording, but to be brutally honest the singing didn’t do much for me, and I hope that any subsequent album puts the emphasis on the playing alone.

That said Chop Idols is a supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour. The co-leaders are both highly fluent and often very exciting trumpet soloists and they are well supported by a swinging rhythm section that also harbours two highly inventive soloists in West and Long. It all adds up to something of a dream package.


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